There’s even more evidence that one type of diet is the best for your body and brain — and it could save you money, too


Eating healthy in a country where heavily processed snack foods are sold as breakfast and fried foods are cheaper than fresh produce is no easy task. Finding the right eating plan gets even harder when medical experts can’t seem to agree on what we should consume for optimal health. But as it turns out, there may be one superior way to eat.

Evidence is building in support of the Mediterranean diet, a meal plan that emphasises vegetables, healthy fats, and protein while limiting processed foods like granola bars and white bread.

Although the plan comes in many different forms, most of its iterations have been linked with key benefits for losing weight, protecting your heart as you age, and keeping your mind sharp.

New research suggests the diet may also be a powerful component of a larger strategy for reducing the symptoms of depression. And it may be cost-effective, too. Participants in a study published on Tuesday saved roughly $US26 per week – or $US1,344 per year -on the Mediterranean meal plan compared to people who stuck to a traditional diet.

“I think everybody has this idea that eating healthy is expensive, but we found that maybe that doesn’t have to be the case,” Mary Lou Chatterton, a professor at Deakin University in Australia and one of the lead authors on the paper, told Business Insider.

Eating like a Mediterranean to feel better and save money

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Eating like you live on the coast of Naples or Athens sounds intuitively appealing. Meals include fresh fish, vegetables drizzled in olive oil, nuts, beans, and whole grains.

But how expensive would switching to a plan like this be? That’s what Chatterton and her team set to find out.

In a previous study, she and her colleagues found evidence of a powerful link between the Mediterranean diet and reduced symptoms of depression. So for the latest research, they wanted to learn if embracing the diet could also be cost-effective.

The answer appears to be yes, according to findings published in May in the journal BMC Public Health.

Compared to participants eating a traditional diet – which included stops at fast-food chains and lots of processed snacks – those on the Mediterranean plan saved $US26 every week on average – roughly $US1,344 a year.

“I know people think of take-away as cheap, but it does add up,” Chatterton said.

‘It’s about getting away from the processed foods’

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For people with depression, studies suggest the Mediterranean diet could help as an add-on to existing treatments, not a replacement for therapy and medication.

“We don’t want people to read this and think, ‘Oh I’ll fix my diet and stop my medication!,'” Chatteron said. “But what I think we can say is that improving diet can be therapeutic. I think we’re onto something, for sure.”

Chatterton’s work is not the only research to suggest that regularly indulging in foods like grilled salmon and creamy avocados – rather than turning to processed snacks – offers significant benefits for the brain.

Earlier this year, researchers found evidence that a version of the Mediterranean diet called the MIND diet was linked with reduced symptoms of cognitive decline in people who’d survived a stroke. Like the Mediterranean diet, the MIND plan emphasises green leafy veggies, proteins and healthy fats, berries, beans, and whole grains. It also slashes processed foods, pastries, sweets, anything fried, red meat, cheese, butter, and margarine.

Similarly, a large study published a few months ago in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found evidence that people who stuck to a Mediterranean or MIND-style plan performed significantly better on tests of memory and attention than those on other types of diets. In fact, the more closely aligned people’s diets were with a Mediterranean-style plan, the lower their risk of scoring poorly on the brain tests.

“These findings lend support to the hypothesis that diet modification may be an important public health strategy to protect against neurodegeneration during ageing,” Claire McEvoy, the lead author and a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of California San Francisco, wrote in the paper.

Researchers still aren’t sure why these type of eating plans appear to be so beneficial for the brain, but they have some clues. Both diets are rich in antioxidants and two types of healthy fat: monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids. Previous studies have found a link between these ingredients and a reduced risk of dementia, as well as higher cognitive performance.

Plus, the green vegetables and berries that are encouraged in the MIND diet have also been shown to help protect against progressive loss of the structure or function of brain cells. This loss, known as neurodegeneration, is a key characteristic of diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

“On a regular basis this is a good way to eat,” Chatterton said. “It just makes sense. It’s about getting away from the processed foods.”