The cognitive function tests showed that on average, those consuming either version of the Mediterranean diet scored significantly higher than the low-fat dieters. Because the participants were Spanish men and women, it’s possible that other lifestyle or cultural factors played a role in the results. But even after adjusting for factors such as age, family history of cognitive problems and dementia, education, and even depression, which can affect cognitive function, the beneficial effect of the Mediterranean diet remained.
Many studies have linked the diet to health improvements, and researchers are starting to pin down some of the factors that could be driving these effects. In this study, the researchers noted that the Mediterranean diet groups may have exploited the high levels of antioxidants and anti-inﬂammatory agents in the foods.
“Oxidative stress has been associated with neurodegeneration. The main components of the [Mediterranean diet] intervention in the…trial, extra virgin olive oil and nuts, have antioxidant properties and, together with other polyphenol-rich foods in the [Mediterranean diet], are suggested to relate to improved cognitive function,” the authors wrote in the study. They also suggested that the beneficial effects of the Mediterranean diet come from improvements in underlying risk factors that otherwise could contribute to strokes or other related health problems.