We’ve long known that the Mediterranean Diet is good for the heart.  It may be good for the brain as well.   Research is indicating that the diet may protect against blood vessel damage in the brain, reducing the risks of stroke and memory loss (Archives of Neurology; February, 2012).


This is the first study to specifically examine the effects of the diet--centered around vegetables, fruits, fish, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and a moderate amount of alcohol, with limited consumption of red meat, sweets and refined grains like white bread or white rice--on the brain’s small blood vessels.  Previous studies have suggested that adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.  In the latest study, researchers analyzed questionnaires completed by 1,000 people participating in a larger, ongoing Northern Manhattan Study.  The participants were categorized into groups based on how closely they adhered to an ideal Mediterranean-style diet.   Then magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, scans of the brain are performed to look for what are called white matter hyperintensities, which show up as small lesions on the scan and indicate damage to small blood vessels.  The damaged blood vessels can cause small so-called ‘silent strokes’ (TIA’s) with no immediate symptoms, but which over time can affect cognitive performance and memory. 


Broadly, the study showed that individuals with the highest Mediterranean diet scores had the lowest white matter volume burden.  Researchers also found that the type of fat appeared to matter.  Those who consumed more monounsaturated fat, which is found in olive oil, avocados and natural peanut butter, had lower white matter hyperintensity volumes on their brain scans.   This information certainly warrants further study, but it does indicate that the diet might be protective of small blood vessels in the brain.

Source: Jennifer Corbett Dooren

For more information on the Mediterranean Diet, see, or