Which is Better for Mental Performance: The Mediterranean Diet or Ketogenic Diet?

Estimated reading time: 2 mins

For mental performance, the Mediterranean Diet and Ketogenic Diet are two popular options. But which one is better for our brains? In this article, I explore the latest in scientific research to determine if one diet is superior to the other when it comes to mental performance.

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An example Mediterranean Diet salad

The Mediterranean Diet has been around since the 1960s and it is characterized by an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and healthy fats such as olive oil. It also involves eating lean protein sources such as poultry or legumes, limiting red meat consumption and avoiding highly processed foods. The diet emphasizes balance and moderation rather than restriction.

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An example Ketogenic Diet salad

On the other hand, a Ketogenic Diet (KD) is high in fat and low in carbohydrates with moderate amounts of protein. This causes the body to enter a state of ketosis, where it breaks down fatty acids into ketone bodies that can be used for energy instead of glucose. This type of diet has become popular among athletes and those looking to lose weight, but can it improve mental performance?

Recent research suggests that both diets may be beneficial for mental performance. A 2019 study published in Frontiers in Nutrition found that following a Mediterranean Diet was associated with improved cognition, memory and executive functioning compared to those who followed an unhealthy Western-style diet. The study concluded that following a Mediterranean Diet could provide “neuroprotection” against cognitive decline with aging.

A 2020 study published by Nutrients also found that following a Mediterranean Diet was associated with better cognitive function compared to following an unhealthy Western-style diet. The authors of this study noted that dietary patterns rich in omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish) may help protect against cognitive decline due to their anti-inflammatory properties.

In terms of KD, a 2021 study published in Neuroscience Letters found that following a KD was associated with improved learning and memory compared to those who followed an unhealthy Western-style diet or an American Heart Association recommended diet (low-fat and high carbohydrates). The authors hypothesized that the ketone bodies produced during ketosis may have neuroprotective properties, leading to improved cognition.

Overall, both diets appear to be beneficial for mental performance; however, there are some differences between them worth noting. While the Mediterranean Diet focuses on maximizing intake of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids which may have anti-inflammatory properties; the KD focuses on creating a state of ketosis by restricting carbs which can lead to increased production of ketone bodies known to have neuroprotective effects. Therefore, depending on your individual needs either option could be beneficial for mental performance but more research is needed before any definitive conclusions can be made about which diet is superior for cognitive function specifically. However, my personal preference is the ketogenic diet.

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