I recently came across a news article about the Mediterranean diet and cognitive health among older adults. But the reporting was so full of errors, omissions, and misinformation, that I found it quite disturbing.
Of course, mistakes often happen, especially in the mainstream press.
But this is another case where the reporter seemed to have an ax to grind…and an agenda to promote.
Botched news article full of reporting errors
The headline for the news article stated: “Study: Mediterranean diet helps keep brain sharp.”
Fair enough. That headline is true and accurate, based on the science. And the study did indeed show that people who follow the Mediterranean diet benefit cognitively later in life.
But in just the second paragraph, the reporter incorrectly described the Mediterranean diet as being, “reliant on olive oil, beans, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with chicken and fish largely replacing red meat. Dairy products and eggs are only used in ‘low to moderate amounts,’ according to the American Heart Association (AHA).”
I hardly even know where to begin with that ignorant, erroneous statement. But let’s first address their take on meat…
Simply put, the Mediterranean diet does NOT largely replace red meat with chicken and fish.
Throughout the Mediterranean, people who follow this traditional diet routinely enjoy a variety of white meat, fish, and red meat. And they certainly don’t replace red meat with white meat and/or fish. In fact, traditional Mediterranean cuisine prominently features lamb—a type of red meat that actually has the healthiest fatty acid profile of any type of meat. (Ever heard of a gyro?!)
Now, let’s move onto the reporter’s take on dairy and eggs. They claim the AHA recommends low amounts of these wholesome foods.
But here again—that’s just not true.
The AHA now admits that eggs are a “rich source of protein and vitamins.” They even say people “can” enjoy one egg a day, as part of a healthy diet. And according to a study published in the AHA’s very own journal, people who eat one egg daily have a lower risk of stroke and heart attack! (In fact, you can eat all the eggs you want, according to the real science, and not the flawed and failed “cholesterol” theory.)
Likewise, in the Mediterranean region, they actually enjoy full-fat, whole-milk dairy (like cheeses and yogurts) at every meal. But some health “experts” (and, apparently, the mainstream news media) fail to mention this fact because it doesn’t fit into their anti-fat narrative.
In any case, the new study focused on brain health…not heart health. So what the AHA says, or doesn’t say, about eggs and/or dairy should not be the issue anyway.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the actual study…
Diet plays a big role in cognition as you get older
For the new study published in Experimental Gerontology, a team of Scottish researchers followed about 500 cognitively healthy older adults with an average age of 79 years.
They gave the participants a battery of cognitive tests designed to assess:
- Problem solving
- Thinking speed
- Visuospatial ability (the ability to perceive where objects are in space)
- Verbal ability
All of the participants filled out questionnaires about their typical dietary habits over the past year. And about 350 of them also underwent magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) brain scans.
It turns out, the participants who more closely followed a Mediterranean diet scored higher on all the cognitive testing. Even after the researchers adjusted for childhood IQ and other educational and health factors! And the strongest association was seen between diet and verbal ability.
Apparently, however, diet did not affect the structure of the brain, as shown by the MRI scans. But that particular finding (or, really, lack of finding) doesn’t concern me all that much…
Brain scans are crude tools, anyhow. They don’t—and can’t—show everything that’s important and relevant for mental functioning in terms of clinical assessments and peoples’ experiences. This is why I never completely trust brain scans, as I’ve reported before.
Be careful who you listen to
At the end of the news article, the reporter quoted a registered dietician nutritionist, who acknowledged the important role of healthy fats for brain health. The nutritionist even accurately stated healthy fats are, “found in high amounts in the Mediterranean diet.”
And that statement is certainly true.
If she (or the reporter) doesn’t acknowledge that dairy, eggs, and lamb (red meat) are key parts of the Mediterranean diet, where do they think those fats are coming from?
Hint: It’s not from their “leafy greens”! And it’s not all coming from salmon filets, either. The nutritionist suggested eating a salmon filet as a brain-healthy meal.
Yes, salmon is good for the brain. But it’s certainly NOT a key part of the Mediterranean diet. It comes from the cold, northwest coasts of Europe and North America. (Perhaps she was confused by the delightful 2011 film with Ewan MacGregor, ironically entitled, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.)
As a quick reminder, here’s a list of what you can—and should—enjoy on the healthy, Mediterranean-type diet:
- Full-fat, whole-milk dairy, including butter, eggs, cheeses, and plain yogurt. (Remember, in the Mediterranean, they typically eat cheese as the after-meal “treat,” and desserts are small and rare.)
- Wild-caught fish and seafood.
- Grass-fed and -finished, free-range, organic beef, chicken, and especially lamb.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day.
- Alcohol, in moderation.
In the end, this kind of garbled, nonsensical “fake news” obscures the real science and tries to keep up the façade of mainstream diet myths and misunderstandings. And with the growing popularity of so-called “plant-based” diets and “fake meats,” I imagine we’ll continue to see more of it.
I’ll continue to keep cutting through the clutter and “fake news” right here in my Daily Dispatch e-letter and my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures.
In fact, to learn much more about the impact following a healthy, Mediterranean-type diet can have on brain health and cognition as you get older, check out the April 2021 issue of Insiders’ Cures (“BREAKING NEWS: New research identifies four early warning signs of Alzheimer’s”). If you’re not yet a newsletter subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.
P.S. This Sunday, June 27th at 3 p.m. (EDT), I’ll be hosting a once-in-a-lifetime event for anyone concerned with addressing and maintaining brain health well into their 60s, 70, 80s, and beyond! Admission to this online event is FREE, but we do expect HIGH demand. So be sure to reserve your spot for my Brain Boosting Summit today!
“Dietary patterns, cognitive function, and structural neuroimaging measures of brain aging.” Experimental Gerontology 2020; 142: 111117. doi.org/10.1016/j.exger.2020.111117.
“Are eggs good for you or not?” Heart, 8/16/18. (heart.org/en/news/2018/08/15/are-eggs-good-for-you-or-not#:~:text=The%20American%20Heart%20Association%20suggests,part%20of%20a%20healthy%20diet.)
“Study: Mediterranean Diet Helps Keep Brain Sharp.” Newsmax, 2/26/21. (newsmax.com/Health/health-news/mediterranean-diet-brain-aging-cognitive-ability/2021/02/26/id/1011641/)