We all know Italian food tastes good and is a crowd pleaser. If you read Why Dining in an Italian Restaurant Makes You Feel So Good, you also know the foods are loaded with healthy ingredients that can reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other life-threatening illnesses. But did you know the ingredients in Italian foods may help protect your brain and its functioning as well?

Italian Cuisine & the Mediterranean Style Diet

The Mediterranean style diet is one of the healthiest diets on the planet, and, according to research, is good for your brain. For instance, people who closely adhere to a Mediterranean-style diet are less likely to suffer dementia, a loss of brain function that makes thinking well enough to do normal activities difficult, if not impossible. Results of multiple studies found an association between the healthy diet and improved cognitive function, reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and a lower rate of cognitive decline.

The Mediterranean-style diet may also lower the risk of brain damage resulting from silent strokes. Researchers found that people who strictly followed a Mediterranean style diet were less likely to develop brain infarcts, which are small areas of dead tissue in the brain that can cause thinking problems. (Read more here.)

But how closely does Italian cuisine follow a Mediterranean style diet?

That depends. If your Italian food consists of pizza loaded with meats and cheese or generous portions of pasta with white cream sauce, you will not get the same health benefits as you would eating primarily fresh produce drizzled with olive oil, along with small portions of poultry, fish and dairy products.

Knowing more about some of the key ingredients in Italian foods and a Mediterranean style diet helps you better understand how the brain can benefit.

Olive Oil as a Brain Food

Most people know olive oil, a prized Italian food ingredient, is the healthy dietary fat. But did you know it could reverse memory loss and improve learning ability? According to research, olive oil is “the latest brain food”.

Protecting Your Brain with Tomatoes

Tomatoes are an excellent source of powerful antioxidants called carotenoids proven to help protect your brain cells against damage from free radicals, the type of damage that could result in dementia. Studies have linked lower levels of carotenoids with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Read more here.

The Healthy Garlic in Italian Foods

Italian food is loaded with garlic, widely recognized for its health benefits. What many people may not know, however, is that garlic could help prevent and slow the growth of brain cancer. Researchers found that a compound in garlic, dilly trisulfide or DATS, could reduce the growth of glioblastoma brain tumors and prevent progression of the tumors in patients who already developed them. 

 Wine with Your Italian Food Also Good for the Brain

If you like to compliment your Italian food with a glass or two of wine, you will be pleased to know research suggests a compound found in red wine may improve your memory. Also found in dark chocolate, the compound “resveratrol” was found to significantly increase retention of words and speed performance in the hippocampus, which plays an important role in short and long term memory.

Considering the results of these studies and more, it is safe to say eating healthy Italian foods is not only tasty, not only good for preventing life-threatening illnesses, but may also help protect and improve your brain so you can better enjoy a long life. Bon appétit!


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