Protecting the Brain With the MIND Diet

There are currently around 5 million Americans over age 65 with dementia. Recently, much research has been put into the prevention of this disease. Lifestyle and diet are two of the best ways to prevent dementia. The MIND diet, which stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, combines two well-known diets – the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH diet. The Mediterranean diet follows the diet principles of those living in the Mediterranean and is found to be one of the healthiest diet patterns. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) was created by the National Institutes of Health to prevent high blood pressure. 

Benefits of the Mind Diet

The MIND diet takes principles from each diet which have been proven to help slow down cognitive decline. One study showed that those who closely follow the diet scored better on cognitive tests to the equivalent of being 7 ½ years younger than those who do not follow the diet pattern. Another study found that those who follow the diet strictly have a 53% less chance of developing Alzheimer’s. Even better news is that the same study found those who even moderately followed the diet had a 35% less chance of developing Alzheimer’s. This shows that even a few, small dietary changes can make a big difference. 

Following MIND Diet Patterns

According to the MIND diet, incorporating some of the following foods may help prevent dementia:  

Green Leafy Vegetables

It is recommended to have one serving (one cup) of green leafy vegetables per day, as these have been found to slow down aging in the brain. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, collards and leaf lettuce have nutrients like vitamin E and folate which are protective against inflammation. Unsure how to get in leafy greens everyday? Try a side salad with dinner, scrambling into eggs at breakfast, or adding to a smoothie. In terms of other vegetables, it is recommended to have one serving everyday as well. Try roasting some veggies as a side dish, stir frying a medley of vegetables, or adding tomatoes and bell peppers to pasta dishes. 

Berries

Another food that is recommended is berries. While all fruits have beneficial vitamins, minerals, and fiber, berries in particular are high in antioxidants, which can help prevent damage to cells in the body, including those in the brain. One study showed that berry intake helped improve memory and learning in animals. Aim for at least two servings per week.  

Fish

Fish is recommended once per week, and researchers have found no benefit to brain health in having more frequent consumption. Fish contains omega fatty acids which can prevent plaque build up in the brain which is a key feature in Alzheimer’s Disease. Go for oily fish such as salmon, tuna, or sardines.  

Olive Oil

When cooking, use olive oil as much as possible over butter and other cooking oils. Olive oil is high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. Opt for extra virgin olive oil, which is the least processed variety. Aside from cooking, use olive oil in dressings and marinades as well. 

Nuts

Nuts are another food that is high in healthy fats and brain-healthy vitamins and minerals. Studies recommend having five servings of nuts per week. While that may sound like a lot, one serving is just ¼ cup, or about the size of the palm of your hand. Try having a handful of nuts as a snack, sprinkling on a salad, or adding to oatmeal.  

Beans

Going meatless a few days a week and getting plant protein from beans can also boost cognitive function. In fact, one study found those who had low intakes of beans had greater cognitive decline. Beans have B vitamins, which are helpful for brain health. Aim for three servings per week. Not ready to go full meatless? Try beans as a side dish with tacos, in a salad, or as a dip.  

Whole Grains

Whole grains are also full of B vitamins and antioxidants. Studies recommend getting three servings of whole grains per day. One serving of whole grains is ½ cup brown rice or other grain, one slice of bread, ½ cup oatmeal, or 1 cup dry cereal. Try spreading whole grains throughout the day to get all three servings in.  

Limiting Foods

Foods that are recommended to limit include red meat, pastries, sweets, butter, and fried foods. Ways to avoid these include swapping out red meat for poultry or making it meatless with beans, using olive oil instead of butter, baking or grilling foods instead of frying, and opting for fruit instead of sweets for a dessert.  

Lifestyle

Aside from diet, there are other lifestyle factors to help prevent dementia. These include light to moderate physical activity, learning something new such as a language or instrument, reading, and being socially active by spending time with friends and family, volunteering, or joining a social group.  

References 

Chen, X., Huang, Y., & Cheng, H. G. (2012). Lower intake of vegetables and legumes associated with cognitive decline among illiterate elderly Chinese: a 3-year cohort study. The journal of nutrition, health & aging16(6), 549–552. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12603-012-0023-2

Cherian, L., Wang, Y., Fakuda, K., Leurgans, S., Aggarwal, N., & Morris, M. (2019). Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) Diet Slows Cognitive Decline After Stroke. The journal of prevention of Alzheimer’s disease6(4), 267–273. https://doi.org/10.14283/jpad.2019.28 

Mazza, E., Fava, A., Ferro, Y., Moraca, M., Rotundo, S., Colica, C., Provenzano, F., Terracciano, R., Greco, M., Foti, D., Gulletta, E., Russo, D., Bosco, D., Pujia, A., & Montalcini, T. (2017). Impact of legumes and plant proteins consumption on cognitive performances in the elderly. Journal of translational medicine15(1), 109. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12967-017-1209-5 

Morris, M. C., Tangney, C. C., Wang, Y., Sacks, F. M., Bennett, D. A., & Aggarwal, N. T. (2015). MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s & dementia : the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association11(9), 1007–1014. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2014.11.009 

Morris, M. C., Tangney, C. C., Wang, Y., Sacks, F. M., Barnes, L. L., Bennett, D. A., & Aggarwal, N. T. (2015). MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimer’s & dementia : the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association11(9), 1015–1022. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2015.04.011 

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