Our brain health is essential for making day-to-day decisions. While its decline is expected to be a normal part of growing older, mental clarity is one of the keys to maintaining a high quality of life. Let’s learn more about a promising new dietary lifestyle called the MIND diet, which was recently found to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
There’s a new diet that is causing some excitement in the health world. You may have heard it mentioned on a quick health section on your local news, but it probably won’t be promoted across social media.
A mash up of the Mediterranean and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet was recently studied by the Rush University and was found that it may be able to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 53%.
The MIND diet was created specifically for the Rush University study, and was created by taking what was already known about the positive and negative effects of certain foods specific to brain function. Over 900 people were selected in the Chicago area who were required to report on the foods they ate in a 9 year period, and subsequently monitored for the development of Alzheimer’s and dementia. They found that those who followed the MIND diet appeared 53% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their peers who did not follow the diet.
It is important to note that the MIND diet isn’t all that different from what nutrition professionals and health experts often recommend:
MORE VEGETABLES, WHOLE GRAINS, AND HEALTHY FATS WITH LESS SATURATED AND TRANS FATS.
The 10 food groups to include are:
- Beans – every other day, a serving is 1/2 cup cooked beans
- Berries – at least twice per week, a 1/2 cup is a serving
- Fish – at least once per week, 3 oz cooked fish is one serving
- Green leafy vegetables – every day, a serving is 1 cup
- Other vegetables – at least once per day, 1/2 cup is a serving
- Nuts – every day, a serving is 1/4 cup
- Olive oil – 1 tablespoon is a serving. Use it as your main cooking oil and/or in place of butter or margarine, just remember oils are high calories so excessive intake will increase your caloric intake (by about 120 calories/tablespoon)
- Wine – one glass per day (we’re talking 5 ounces, not an Olivia Pope sized glass)
- Whole grains – three times per day, a serving is 1 slice of bread or 1/2 cup cooked grains
- Poultry – at least twice per week, a serving is 3 oz cooked
Overall, the MIND diet is rich in vitamins and antioxidants. Berries, in particular, are singled out due to multiple studies that suggest they (especially blueberries and strawberries) decrease neuron loss and improve memory. Whole grains are an excellent source of B vitamins, which studies suggest benefit aging neurons, while fish is an excellent source of Omega-3’s (including DHA) which are integral in brain structure.
The 5 foods to limit or avoid are:
- Red meat – less than 4 servings per week (3 ounces cooked is a serving)
- Fast food/fried foods – less than one serving per week
- Pastries and sweets – less than 5 servings per week
- Cheese – less than one serving per week (1 1/2 ounces or 1 slice of cheese is a serving)
- Butter and stick margarine – less than 1 tablespoon per day
A number of studies have found potential links between elevated cholesterol levels, saturated fat, inflammation, and development of Alzheimer’s disease. The foods identified to limit or avoid are those which provide high amounts of saturated and trans fat in the typical diet, which have both been associated with higher inflammation and blood cholesterol levels.
Keep in mind that Alzheimer’s is a complex disease with many contributing factors, and that the Rush study was only one study following a small group of people in one geographical area. There will need to be more studies with diverse populations to better evaluate this diet and its benefits, but the initial study is indeed very promising.
The most exciting aspect of the Rush study suggests that even those who followed the MIND diet only “moderately” well still saw a 35% reduction in their risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Most people will not follow a diet perfectly 100% of the time, so if you can follow the diet most of the time you can still benefit, which makes it functional and practical in the real world. The study also suggested that the longer people had been following the MIND diet, the more protective the benefits,
WHICH MEANS IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO START.
- Thalheimer, Judith. “Food for Thought: The MIND diet – Fighting Dementia with Food.” Today’s Dietitian. Vol 17. No 9. P 28.
- Di Fiore, Nancy. Rush University Medical Center. https://www.rush.edu/news/diet-may-help-prevent-alzheimers
- Pagan, Camille Noe. The Mind Diet May Help Prevent Alzheimer’s. WebMD.
- Barnard, Neal B; Bunner, Anne E; Agarwal, Ulka. “Saturated and trans fats and dementia: a systemic review.”
- Morris, Martha Clare ScD. “Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease: What the Evidence Shows.” Medscape.
- Akiyama, H. “Inflammatory response is Alzheimer’s Disease.”
- Wyss-Coray, Tony; Rogers, Joseph. “Inflammation in Alzheimer’s Disease – A Brief Review of the Basic Science and Clinical Literature.”
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Taryn Schubert, RD is a Los Angeles-based Registered Dietitian who helps people create healthy diets that fit their lifestyle. With her specialty in adult weight management and mindful eating, Taryn believes food should be a source of joy and nourishment, not “good” or “bad” in the way society perpetuates. Visit Taryn and begin creating your healthier relationship with food.