Replacing fish with beef or chicken in Mediterranean diet could give even more benefits to the brain

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Including beef, chicken or pork in your Mediterranean diet could help stave off Alzheimer’s, a study suggests.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, found that a modified version of the famous diet that incorporated foods from the typical low-carb, high fat, keto diet reduced levels of a neurotransmitter in the brain linked with cognitive decline.

The Mediterranean diet usually includes fish, beans and nuts as its main source of protein, but this research shows it can be expanded to other high-fat meats too.

Whether meat is healthy for a person is under much debate. While many have highlighted the value of veganism in previous research, more data is starting to come out showing the benefits of beef and chicken in the diet.

Researchers found that a Mediterranean diet that uses beef or chicken instead of fish could be more valuable to the brain in people with cognitive issues (file photo)

Researchers found that a Mediterranean diet that uses beef or chicken instead of fish could be more valuable to the brain in people with cognitive issues (file photo)

The Mediterranean diet features a heavy dose of fish, nuts, berries, whole grains and other goods.

It is part of the local cuisine in countries such as Greece, Spain and other countries on the south end of Europe.

In past decades, researchers started to find that people who lived in these regions had lower rates of Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.

Over time, they learned that this was because of their diet. Specifically, the fatty oils in fish and olive oil have been pointed to as a wonder for Alzheimer’s prevention.

Now, in new research published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, researchers found that mixing the famous diet with the keto diet can be just as valuable.

The keto diet has risen in popularity in recent years. It cuts out nearly all carbs, and instead replaces the body’s primary energy source with fat.

Subscribers to the diet will often avoid bread and other foods, instead focusing on non-starchy vegetables and meats.

The UCSD team, who partnered with researchers from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, combined the diets.

They gathered data from 20 participants, 11 were cognitively normal, and nine had displayed signs of mild cognitive impairment.

Each were assigned to eat either a modified Keto-Mediterranean diet or another diet was low in fat and high in carbs.

They would follow the diet for six weeks, then take a six-week break in-between to ‘wash out’ the other one, before taking on the other diet for another six weeks.

Stool samples were collected from each participant at the start of the research and after each six-week period.

Researchers were looking for signs of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and microbes that are responsible for producing it. 

High levels of GABA, also linked to anxiety, are believed to put increased stress on the brain and further aging.

This leads to more plaques and other damage to the vital organ, causing cognitive decline over time.

The researchers found levels of GABA and its associated microbes were lowest after a person had eaten the modified Keto-Mediterranean diet in people who already had some cognitive impairments.

This means that the diet that included all the regular staples of Greek and Spanish cuisine but also allowed for large doses of chicken and beef, was good for the brain.

‘We hope that better understanding this complex relationship between diet, cognitive status and gut health will lead to new interventions to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease,’ Dr Suzanne Craft, a geriatric medicine doctor at Wake Forest said.

The effects in people whose brains were already healthy were limited, though.

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