Food and drink: Remember to… to… 

Eating that yellow powder whose name starts with ‘T’ can boost brain power

I had a great idea for a food column this week. It was on... ah... Huh, I can't seem to... Oh! It was on what you can do food-wise to help your memory.

The idea was inspired by recent medical studies that confirm findings of an earlier one: a Mediterranean diet has good things in store for the brain and even better things if you exercise, too.

The first study, conducted in 2006 by Columbia University Medical Center, showed that elderly people in New Your who stick closest to a Mediterranean diet had slower age-related cognitive decline than those who didn't. A recent follow-up study of those same New Yorkers concluded that those who were the most active had an even greater chance of avoiding Alzheimer's disease - a 61-67 per cent greater chance.

All this was confirmed by an additional study of more than 1,400 older people in France. It also concluded that people who stick closest to a Mediterranean diet had slower age-related cognitive decline than those who didn't.

The nice thing is that the studies' main author, Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas, who's the assistant professor of Neurology at Division of Aging and Dementia at Columbia, says it's not about how much you eat, it's all about how well you eat.

Given Dr. Scarmeas's name, it's likely he's personally familiar with a Mediterranean diet. It's commonly defined as one very low in red meat and chicken, and very high in fruits, nuts, legumes, vegetables, and cereals - for the antioxidants and vitamin B, among other things - as well as high in fish for the Omega-3 fatty acids. You get to drink low to moderate amounts of wine and olive oil is your main source of fat.

We've heard before that the Mediterranean diet is good for our hearts and some would argue our souls, but now this even better news - it's also good for our brains! No wonder Spanish, Greek, Italian and Provençal food are all about conviviality.

As if by corollary, about the same time these studies were published, research conducted by Oxford University and funded by the British Heart Foundation showed that rats that were switched from their regular diets to high-fat ones showed decline in physical stamina and mental performance.

While this study was mostly aimed at short-term effects, such as athletes who go on high-fat diets thinking it will enhance their performance, it also reinforced past studies that showed high-fat diets impair mental or cognitive performance over the long term.

I think of all the people who went bonkers on the high-meat, low-carb Atkins diet several years ago, right before the economy crashed. The regime especially captivated high-powered decision makers in urban settings. We can only hope they've re-discovered lentils by now.

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