When Mars Attacks When Mars Attacks Want to keep a healthy, large brain into your golden years? Try this diet of fish, vegetables, and nuts. (Photo: When Mars Attacks/Tim Burton Productions)

What diet can keep your brain from shrinking?

Researchers say this popular healthy diet could slow aging by as much as five years.

While a healthy diet is great for maintaining those parts of our body we'd rather not see expand, it turns out it's also key in keeping our brains from shrinking.

You read that right. Keeping fit physically from diet and exercise isn't just about what we see in the mirror, but also what's happening behind the curtain. And according to new research, there's one diet that excels at helping with both.

Researchers at Columbia University in New York studying elderly patients discovered that those who followed a Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, fish, olive oil, nuts, fruits and little meat and dairy, had higher brain volumes than those who did not. The findings follow another study published earlier this year that linked the healthy diet to a boost in cognitive function.

Kale, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas topped with a fried eggA hearty breakfast of kale, chickpeas and grape tomatoes is a great way to channel the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. (Photo: Amelia Crook/Flickr)

To gauge the relationship between healthy eating and brain size, researchers polled more than 680 patients with an average age of 80 on their eating habits. They then performed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of their brains. On average, those who most closely embraced the consumption characteristics of the Mediterranean diet had 13.11 millilitres greater brain volume.

According to the study's authors, that difference is equivalent to five years of aging.

“The magnitude of the association with brain measures was relatively small. But when you consider that eating at least five of the recommended Mediterranean diet components has an association comparable to five years of age, that is substantial,” lead author Yian Gu of Columbia University said in a statement.

The researchers added that supplementing meat with fish was particularly effective, with 3 to 5 ounces per week providing "considerable protection" against brain cell loss.

salmon steak with dill and lemonsFresh fish is one of the easiest dinners to prepare, and there are myriad cooking techniques and flavors to please any palate. (Photo: Marina Nabatova/Shutterstock)

Going forward, scientists are hopeful that findings like these will help inform the medical community on how best to help people avoid future aging complications through diet. For those who want to maintain good health, a strong heart, and a large brain to keep it all together, it's increasingly clear that embracing a Mediterranean diet is the smart choice.

Want to start keeping your brain large and in charge right away? The fine team here at From The Grapevine has already compiled a complete Mediterranean menu to help you get started. Want even more? Our resident chefs Miriam Kresh, Jerry James Stone and Sarah F. Berkowitz have hundreds of tasty recipes in our Israeli Kitchen.

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