‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: Shut your pie hole or, in this case: Put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Losing Your Mind? Can the Mediterranean Diet Help?

The Mediterranean Diet (MD) is one that is routinely in the news, frequently discussed by health professionals, commonly asked about by clients and often quite misunderstood. There are many health claims made about this nutty and fishy diet. This one is certainly no fad and has a fair bit of science behind it. Today we will focus on new research exploring the association between the MD and aging. Oil up and grab your nuts, this could get a little cheesy.

The MD is characterised by a high intake of vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, cereals and monounsaturated fats (eg: olive oil). Likewise, the MD comprises of low amounts of saturated fat (eg: processed/packaged goods, butter, etc) and a moderate intake of dairy, meat, poultry and fish. Alcohol (mostly red wine) is a regular but moderate feature with family meals. Lastly, the MD includes daily exercise activities. Countries in the Mediterranean region (Italy, Spain, etc) have eaten and lived this way for centuries.

What does the science say about the MD? Research shows associations between the MD and lowered risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (memory or thinking problems greater than normal for one's age and education). This encouragingly suggests that emulating the MD helps keep you from losing your marbles.

How does the MD have such a hold on your mind? The composition of the diet discussed above provides some highly desirable ingredients for health that reduces the risk of some cancers, diabetes, heart disease, memory problems/cognitive decline and more. The MD provides high amounts of:
  • Monounsaturated fats (found in nuts, avocado, vegetable/canola/olive/sunflower oils)
  • B vitamins (found in proteins like meat, poultry, fish, dairy, legumes, eggs and vegetables)
  • Antioxidants (substances, including vitamins, found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish and poultry that help protect cells from damage)
  • Vitamin C (found in citrus and other fruits and veggies like tomato, broccoli and watermelon)
  • Vitamin E (found in fats/oils like nuts, seeds, avocado, eggs, canola and olive oils)
  • Carotenoids (found in red, yellow, orange and dark green fruits and veggies)

These components have research linking them with better cognitive function and performance, reduced cognitive impairment and a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease (1, 2, 3).

Another reason to lube up your pie hole with some olive oil and other aforementioned goodies is their role in reducing oxidative stress, which leads to inflammation. Oxidative stress is caused by regular body activities like breathing and metabolism that produce molecules called 'free radicals'. You can think of these molecules as hyperactive bouncy children that run around at a party knocking into things. These unpredictable and bouncy molecules bump into cells and cause damage (they contribute to heart disease, diabetes, asthma and some cancers). Antioxidants and vitamins provided by foods dominant in the MD help neutralise free radicals and prevent cell damage.

So what have we learned? Extend an olive branch to the MD by:
  • Adding some extra fruits and veggies to your meals and snacks
  • Taking it easy on the red meat, go fishy instead
  • Putting some olive oil, rather than butter, into your pie hole
  • Legumes now and legumes later help when you're an old fart

Further reading about the MD from other dietitians:

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