- Mediterranean diets are generally considered to be healthy
- The effects of consuming such a diet in conjunction with unhealthy foods was unknown until recently
- Researchers revealed that unhealthy food consumption can lessen the positive effects of a healthy diet
Existing research proves that a Mediterranean diet positively impacts health as it promotes cardiovascular health, and slows down cognitive decline.
Until recently, it was unclear how incorporating unhealthy foods into an otherwise healthy diet affected the average person's health.
Fortunately, researchers at Rush University Medical Center conducted a study aimed at revealing whether the effects of unhealthy foods could offset the possible benefits of a Mediterranean diet on cognitive decline.
Fruit and veg versus pizza and fries
In order to come to a conclusion, the researchers conducted an observational study that involved looking at data from 5 001 adults who were part of the Chicago Health and Aging Project.
This project assessed the cognitive health of individuals (over the age of 65) between 1993 and 2012, with three-yearly interventions involving completing cognitive tests and assessing the foods they consumed.
The researchers looked at which participants followed more of a Mediterranean diet, which involves eating foods like fish, vegetables, legumes, olive oil, wine in moderation, and potatoes on a daily basis.
They also assessed who ate more of a "Western" diet, including foods like pizza, processed foods, full-fat dairy products and sweets, and assigned diet scores based on participants' diets.
Healthy diets preserve cognitive function
Researchers assessed participants diet scores and cognitive function in order to determine if there was an association, and found that those who closely followed a Mediterranean diet had slower cognitive decline compared to those who followed a typical Western diet.
"Eating a diet that emphasises vegetables, fruit, fish and whole grains may positively affect a person's health," said Professor Puja Agarwal, a nutritional epidemiologist and assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush Medical College.
"But when it is combined with fried food, sweets, refined grains, red meat and processed meat, we observed that the benefits of eating the Mediterranean part of the diet seem to be diminished."
The researchers emphasised that including more green leafy vegetables, olive oil, fish and berries into our diets poses great benefits for our brains and body.
They went on to say that "to benefit from diets such as the Mediterranean diet, or MIND diet, we would have to limit our consumption of processed foods and other unhealthy foods such as fried foods and sweets".