• by: Fondazione Valter Longo
  • August 8th, 2022

A healthy and balanced diet is good for our health. Scientists, especially in recent years, have been focusing on studying the benefits of some healthful diets. In particular, the Mediterranean Diet is the one that is most investigated. Recently, a new study was published in Neurology (March 2019), which examined how healthy diets positively affect cognitive function, preventing forms of senile dementia.


This survey was conducted for more than 30 years by a team of researchers from Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Over 2,600 adult individuals (men and women) were involved, with an average age of 25, at the start of the study, up to 45, at the end of the survey. Participants were questioned about their eating habits at the start of the study and 7 and 20 years later. The same individuals then responded to cognitive tests two more times: at 50 and then again at 55 years of age. Participants were categorized into three different adherence groups (low, medium, high), depending on how close their diet was to 3 different diets considered healthy.

The following healthy food protocols were considered: MedDiet (the classic Mediterranean Diet), DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – designed against hypertension, as part of the study called CARDIA) and the APDQS diet (diet with scoring of food quality A Priori). In the MedDiet, the consumption of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, unsaturated fats, fatty fish, and olive oil prevails; while red meat, poultry, and high-fat dairy products are limited. The DASH diet consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy products and nuts, limits on the consumption of fish, poultry, red meat, total and saturated fat, salt, and sweets. The APDQS diet includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat dairy products, fish, and moderate alcohol; with limits on high-fat dairy products, fried foods, salty snacks, sweets, and sugary drinks.


The results showed improved cognitive health with the Mediterranean diet and the APDQS diet, while no relevant benefits were measured for those who followed the DASH diet. In particular, the group with high adherence to the MedDiet was 46% less likely to have poor thinking skills, compared to participants with low adherence to the Mediterranean diet. On the other hand, individuals with high adherence to the APDQS diet were 52% less likely to have poor thinking skills than those with poor adherence to the diet. Furthermore, these data were also examined in connection with factors that are able to influence cognitive function such as physical activity, level of education, and smoking.

It is not clear why the DASH diet did not show a cognitive advantage. One hypothesis is that the DASH diet does not take into account moderate alcohol intake as part of the diet, compared to the other two diets. It is, therefore, likely that moderate alcohol consumption, supplemented with a healthy diet, may be an important factor in middle-aged brain health. Experts say more scientific insights and research are needed in order to identify the right combinations of foods and nutrients that promote and support cognitive function. While we do not know the ideal dietary model for brain health, following a heart-healthy diet can be an effective way to decrease the risk of developing cognitive problems related to thinking and memory as we age and to the onset of senile dementias.


  1. Claire T. McEvoy, Tina Hoang, Stephen Sidney, Lyn M. Steffen, David R. Jacobs, James M. Shikany, John T. Wilkins, Kristine Yaffe – Dietary patterns during adulthood and cognitive performance in midlife – Neurology (March 2019) (ultimo accesso: 09/02/2022)

  • The Health of the Brain Depends on Weight as Well

Smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity each linked to unhealthy brains – European Heart Journal (mar 2019) (ultimo accesso: 09/02/2022)


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