Could a Mediterranean Eating Pattern Stave Off Cognitive Decline?

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Need more reason to bump up your fruit and veggie intake? Chew on this. A recent Canadian study among middle and older adults finds that heavy intake of vegetables and fruits improves cognitive function. Among study participants between the ages of 45 to 85, a Mediterranean diet improved mental status. Researchers suggest that eating more fruits, vegetables, nuts, lentils and beans (pulses) were linked with higher scores on verbal fluency tests, an important indicator of mental skills.

Co-author Dr. Karen Davison, a nutrition research program director at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia and a North American Primary Care Research Fellow agrees that the data from this study is aligned with previous research that’s found a “a Mediterranean diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes is protective against cognitive decline.”

An important measure of cognitive decline is verbal fluency. An evaluation involves subjects being asked to name as many words in one minute in a given category. Language and executive function are measured, which can be used to determine impairment in cognitive function.

Higher verbal fluency scores were seen with each increase in average daily vegetable and fruit consumption with the best results observed in those that ate at least six servings per day.

Adults with poor appetites, those who cannot prepare healthy food or consume poor quality diets, may be at risk for malnutrition. Grip strength is often utilized to identify poor nutritional status. Subjects in the study with poor grip strength and/or poor nutritional status also experienced lower verbal fluency. Co-author Zahraa, a new Masters graduate of University of Toronto’s School of Public Health notes that measures of malnutrition have been indicated in cognitive decline in previous studies.

The relationship between factors including immigrant status, age, obesity, blood pressure and body fat and cognitive health were also studied. Those subjects whom spoke English and had resided in Canada for at least 20 years had higher verbal fluence scores compared to their Canadian-born peers. Immigrants may have better cognitive reserve as a protective effect according to the researchers.

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD


  1. Fuller-Thomson, E, Saab, Z., Davison, KM., Lin, S, Taler, K, Kobayashi, K, Tong, H. (2020). Nutrition, immigration and health determinants are linked to verbal fluency among Anglophone adults in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA). Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging 24(6):672-680.
  2. Karssemeijer EGA, Aaronson JA, Bossers WJ, Smits T, Olde Rikkert MGM, Kessels RPC. Positive effects of combined cognitive and physical exercise training on cognitive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment or dementia: A meta-analysis. Ageing Res Rev. 2017 Nov;40:75-83.
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