A MEDITERRANEAN-style diet could be the key to staying mentally sharp in later life, say Scottish researchers.
Researchers say people who cut back on red meat and eat lots of green leafy vegetables tend to score better in memory and thinking tests in their late 70s.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh tested the thinking skills of more than 500 people aged 79 and without dementia.
The participants completed tests of problem solving, thinking speed, memory, and word knowledge, as well as a questionnaire about their eating habits during the previous year.
Fans of a Mediterranean diet had the highest cognitive function scores, even when accounting for childhood IQ, smoking, physical activity and health factors.
The researchers say the differences were small but statistically significant.
Dr Janie Corley, from the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, said: “Eating more green leafy vegetables and cutting down on red meat might be two key food elements that contribute to the benefits of the Mediterranean-style diet.
“In our sample, the positive relationship between a Mediterranean diet and thinking skills is not accounted for by having a healthier brain structure, as one might expect.
“Though it’s possible there may be other structural or functional brain correlates with this measure of diet, or associations in specific regions of the brain, rather than the whole brain, as measured here.”
More than 350 of the group also underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scan to gain insights into their brain structure.
Markers of healthy brain ageing – such as greater grey or white matter volume, or fewer white matter lesions—did not differ between those regularly eating a Mediterranean diet and those who did not.
The participants were part of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 study, a group of individuals who were born in 1936 and took part in the Scottish Mental Survey of 1947.
Since 1999, researchers have been working with the Lothian Birth Cohorts to chart how a person’s thinking power changes over their lifetime.