March 7 (UPI) -- A diet famous for helping people's heart health can also help keep cognitive abilities intact, a new study says.
People who started and had a high adherence to the Mediterranean diet at age 25 were 46 percent less likely to have poor thinking skills by the time they turned 55, according to research published Wednesday in Neurology. People in the same age group who had a high adherence to the CARDIA a priori Diet Quality Score, or APDQS diet, were 52 percent less likely to have poor thinking skills at 55.
"Our findings indicate that maintaining good dietary practices throughout adulthood can help to preserve brain health at midlife" said Claire T. McEvoy, a researcher of Queen's University in Northern Ireland and study author, in a news release.
The Mediterranean diet consists of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy unsaturated fats, nuts, legumes and fish and limits red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy. It's similar to the APDQS diet, which also contains fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy, but limits the consumption of alcohol, fried foods and foods sweetened with sugar.
Study participants also followed the DASH diet, which also emphasizes grains, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, legumes and nuts and limits meat, fish, poultry, total fat, saturated fat, sweets and sodium.
However, young people who followed that diet, at any adherence level, still showed more cognitive decline by 55 than the other two diets.
"One possibility is that DASH does not consider moderate alcohol intake as part of the dietary pattern, whereas the other two diets do," McEvoy said. "It's possible that moderate alcohol consumption as part of a healthy diet could be important for brain health in middle age, but further research is needed to confirm these findings."
Young people who had a high adherence to the Mediterranean diet ate 4.2 servings of fruit and 4.4 servings of vegetables versus 2.3 servings of fruit per day and 2.8 servings of vegetables for people with low adherence.
People with high adherence to the APDQS diet ate 3.7 servings of fruit and 4.4 servings of vegetables, compared to 3.7 and 4.4 servings for the low group.
"While we don't yet know the ideal dietary pattern for brain health, changing to a heart-healthy diet could be a relatively easy and effective way to reduce the risk for developing problems with thinking and memory as we age," McEvoy said.