It’s been known for a while that the Mediterranean diet is good for your heart, but now new findings show that it can help stave off memory loss as you age.
The diet, known for its use of olive oil, leafy green vegetables, plenty of fresh fruit, fish, whole grains and nuts, can improve cognitive function and reduce the risk for dementia, according to the study, which was released in May in the JAMA Internal Medicine. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Barcelona in Spain. It is the first clinical, randomized study and tracked mental acuity of healthy seniors who were on the Mediterranean diet, plus an additional serving of nuts or extra virgin olive oil daily. Another group of seniors were put on a low-fat diet. After fours years, the seniors who ate the low-fat diet had worse results on cognitive tests and those seniors who at the Mediterranean diet did not see cognitive decline.
So how can you get more of the foods from the Mediterranean into your daily diet or those of your aging parents or other loved ones?
Look for foods that are familiar to people who may have grown up with a Southern diet. Feeding them couscous right off the bat might be too radical. But meals such as grilled shrimp served over a salad with cherry tomatoes and white beans – flavored with a light dressing of extra virgin olive oil, a tablespoon of lemon juice and salt and pepper — would be a Mediterranean take on a summer salad. Grilled salmon over a Greek salad of lettuce, sliced red onion, black olives, large diced Roma tomatoes, diced cucumber, torn pieces of garlic bread with an olive oil-based vinaigrette is a filling meal for lunch or dinner.
A lot of elders in the Black community grew up eat sardines – they are high in protein and inexpensive. Try mixing in a can of tomato sauce-packed sardines with a whole-wheat fettuccini tossed with a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice and sautéed chopped garlic. Sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese on top to set it off. It is quick, simple, filling and has most of the healthy foods that make up the core of the Mediterranean diet. A small bowl of fresh strawberries afterward would be the perfect dessert, especially with a dollop of non-fat sour cream sprinkled with a bit of brown sugar and pecans. Bam! Done.
Or you could pull some ideas from the other side of the Mediterranean in North Africa. Try the Libyan omelet known as Shakshouka, which are eggs poached in a tomato sauce with chili peppers, onions and spiced with cumin. Egyptians as well as people from Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria also love this dish.
A simple side dish for carrot lovers is this Libyan mix of carrot, cumin, coriander and garlic.
At better grocery stores you can pick fresh dolmas, which are grape leaves stuffed with a rice mixture of crushed red tomatoes, onion, parsley, dill, salt, pepper and Mediterranean spices. Some dolmas might contain ground beef; others are strictly vegetarian. The bonus part is they are highly portable and can be eaten cold and on the run. Four nice-size dolmas and a side salad is a filling lunch.
Eating Well magazine has a free download of Mediterranean recipes, but you have to give them your email to get it.
Grilled Salmon over salad by Ron Dollete under CC 2.0 license
Shakshouka photo courtesy of Calliopejen1 under the CC license
Dolma photo courtesy of Maderibeyza under the CC license
Sardine Al Limone by Dave Crosby under the CC 2.0 license