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The Mediterranean diet is plenty popular on its own. But recently, a new plant-based spin on this healthy eating approach called the green Mediterranean diet has taken off. And according to research, it’s got benefits that can potentially do wonders for your health from brain to heart and beyond.
The green Mediterranean diet is, well, greener than the original. It follows the principles of the original Med diet, but ups the number of plant-based foods you’re consuming and adds in a brilliantly green supplement called wolffia globosa, a tiny green duckweed plant. And research now suggests that this more plant-forward diet may offer even more benefits for your brain – especially as you age.
Here’s why going green can help you stay sharp and see less brain aging as you get older.
The green Mediterranean diet may slow brain aging
In January 2022, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published the results of one of the longest, largest brain MRI trials in the world. Over the course of 18 months, researchers at Ben-Gurion University led an international study that examined the effects of diet on age-related brain atrophy.
Researchers worked with 284 participants, who were divided into three groups based on their diets: a healthy dietary guidelines group, a Mediterranean diet group and a green Mediterranean diet group. All three groups participated in physical activity programs with aerobic exercise included, and they had whole brain MRI measurements taken before and after the trial.
After 18 to 24 months, the researchers were surprised to see dramatic changes in the participants’ MRIs. They noticed that the rate of brain atrophy markers – like a shrinking hippocampus and brain tissue loss – became significantly accelerated in individuals age 50 and older.
But most surprising of all was the benefit of the green Mediterranean diet. While brain atrophy slowed down in both the Mediterranean and green Mediterranean diet groups, those on the green Med approach saw more significant changes. They experienced less brain atrophy – and they also saw an improvement in insulin sensitivity. The areas of the brain that tend to show symptoms of neurodegeneration with age, like the hippocampus, weren’t as affected in those who stuck to the principles of the green Mediterranean diet.
The health advantage is in the plants, not the protein
Over the course of their study, researchers noted that the good ol’ Mediterranean diet did also have a positive effect on brain atrophy. The green Mediterranean diet simply had a more significant impact, slowing down the signs of brain aging more noticeably.
And the Mediterranean and green Mediterranean diets do have quite a bit in common. Both diets emphasize lean protein, like seafood, chicken and turkey, over red or processed meats. These two eating approaches also highlight heart-healthy, brain-fueling foods like fresh vegetables, nuts, beans and olive oil. But what makes the green Mediterranean diet potentially better for aging brains is the extra focus on “green” foods – specifically, plants.
The study’s researchers theorize that while the Mediterranean diet’s reduced meat consumption is beneficial for the brain, it’s really the increased polyphenols in the green Med diet that make the biggest difference. Participants who followed the green Mediterranean approach ate a daily wolffia globosa shake, drank three to four cups of green tea and ate more plant-based foods than meat. And researchers suggest that this abundance of polyphenols from plant-based ingredients may offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits for the brain.
So, if you’re hoping to prevent brain atrophy and keep your brain sharper well into your golden years, put more plants on your plate. Loading up on their polyphenols and antioxidants can potentially offer benefits that fight neurological changes, including brain volume.
And if you’re interested in trying the green Mediterranean diet (or the Mediterranean diet) to really reap the brain benefits, keep reading: