Mediterranean Diet: Foods That May Help Slow Brain Aging

Mediterranean Diet: Foods That May Help Slow Brain Aging

By Victoria Stokes. Fact checked by Jennifer Chesak, MSJ


A new study has found that specific nutrients similar to those found in the Mediterranean diet may play a crucial role in slowing down brain aging.

Using blood biomarker analysis, brain imaging, and cognitive assessments, the study published in Nature Publishing Group. Aging concluded that a diet rich in fatty acids, antioxidants, carotenoids, vitamin E, and choline could promote healthy brain aging and cognitive function.

Participants with slower brain aging had a distinct nutrient profile — a combination of fatty acids (vaccenic, gondoic, alpha-linolenic, eicosapentaenoic, eicosadienoic, and lignoceric acids); antioxidants and carotenoids including cislutein, trans-lutein, and zeaxanthin; two forms of vitamin E and choline.

The findings suggest that a Mediterranean diet may help slow cognitive decline.


Mediterranean diet and brain aging: Where's the link?

Nichola Ludlam-Raine, dietitian and author of How Not to Eat Ultra-Processed, who was not involved in the study, says the findings of this study are much what she’d expect.

“The positive effect the Mediterranean diet has on brain health is increasingly recognized,” she explains. “It’s supported by a growing body of evidence linking its nutrient profile to cognitive function and neuro-protection.”

Amy Reichelt, nutritional neuroscientist and chief innovation officer at PurMinds NeuroPharma, who was not involved in the study, agrees.

“The fatty acids identified are all naturally occurring fatty acids that are found in plants, dairy, and oily fish. These fatty acids are essential for the maintenance of neurons, also known as brain cells,” she explains.

Meanwhile, Reichelt says antioxidants, including carotenoids, are important for neutralizing free radicals. They protect the brain from oxidative stress, which can damage brain cells and accelerate aging. “Preventing oxidative stressor build-ups can maintain neuron function,” Reichelt explains.

Then there’s vitamin E and choline. “Vitamin E is another important antioxidant that helps to protect cellular functions and has been linked to being protective against dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease,” says Reichelt.

As for choline (found in foods like egg yolks), Reichelt says it’s the building block for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important for sustained attention and memory.

Summarizing how this nutrient profile slows brain aging, Ludlam-Raine explains, “These nutrients collectively contribute to reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, two major factors in brain aging. They support cell membrane integrity, improve blood flow to the brain, and enhance neuroplasticity, all of which are crucial for maintaining cognitive function as we age.”


Additional health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet

Beyond brain health, Ludlam-Raine says the Mediterranean diet is beneficial to our health in several ways.

“It enhances cardiovascular health as omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of heart disease. It supports the immune function thanks to antioxidants like vitamins C and E,” she says. “And it also reduces inflammation, which is beneficial for managing conditions like arthritis and metabolic syndrome.”


What are the best foods that contain nutrients to boost brain health?

Ludlam-Raine says fatty fish are a good item to add to your shopping basket. “Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and we should aim to have at least one portion of oily fish a week,” she says.

Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and broccoli are also great selections. They provide carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin.

Nuts and seeds are another item to stock up on. Ludlam-Raine says almonds, sunflower seeds, and flaxseeds offer vitamin E and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).

To get more choline in your diet, try including eggs and liver. Filling your plate with colorful vegetables and fruits is also a good idea.

Ludlam-Raine recommends peppers, tomatoes, and oranges, which are high in antioxidants and vitamin C as well.


How to incorporate more brain-health foods into your diet

You don’t have to completely overhaul your diet to prioritize your brain health. You can start by taking small steps in the right direction.

Ludlam-Raine suggests picking one or two days a week to include salmon, sardines, or mackerel in your meals. You can also increase your intake of leafy greens by adding spinach or kale to smoothies, salads, and side dishes.

When snacking, Ludlam-Raine recommends keeping almonds, sunflower seeds, and flaxseeds handy. You can eat them alone or add them to yogurt, cereal, or porridge for a more substantial meal.

Breakfast is a great time to increase your choline intake. You can do so by having eggs.

Finally, Ludlam-Raine advises adding plenty of color to your plate with an array of fresh fruits and vegetables. “Aim for a variety of colorful produce to ensure a good mix of antioxidants and carotenoids,” she suggests.

Eating whole, minimally processed foods as much as possible is key. “Try to eat at least five portions of fruits and vegetables a day and 30 different plant-based foods a week. Eat the rainbow to obtain all the nutrients you need,” Ludlam-Raine advises.



Foods associated with the Mediterranean diet appear to have a positive effect on brain health. Research suggests the diet’s nutrient profile of fatty acids and antioxidants can slow cognitive decline. Brain-healthy foods to incorporate into your diet include fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens.


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