You probably already load up your plate with brain-boosting foods like fatty fish and dark chocolate, but now there’s a new diet plan that could seriously slash your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease—even if you’re only so-so about following it.
The MIND diet—which stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay and could not be more aptly named—reduced Alzheimer’s risk by 53% among strict adherents and by 35% among those who followed it pretty well, according to a new study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of The Alzheimer’s Association.
“Even moderate adherence to the MIND diet showed a statistically significant decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” says study author Martha Clare Morris, a professor of epidemiology at Rush University in Chicago. “Neither the Mediterranean diet or DASH had that benefit with moderate adherence.”
Both the Mediterranean and DASH diets have shown brain-boosting benefits in past research, even though both are typically touted for their protective powers for the heart. The MIND diet, on the other hand, emphasizes the pieces of each that have been specifically linked to dementia prevention and modifies other aspects, like fruit consumption, for added benefit.
The diet is based on 10 healthy food groups and 5 not-so-healthy ones. Perfect MIND dieters eat:
- At least 3 servings of whole grains a day
- 6 servings of leafy greens a week plus one other veggie serving a day
- 2 servings of berries a week
- 1 serving of fish a week
- 2 servings of poultry a week
- 3 servings of legumes a week
- 5 servings of nuts a week
A daily serving of alcohol, preferably red wine for its long list of health benefits
They also use olive oil as the primary oil in their home cooking. As for what they avoid, they nibble on fast or fried foods and cheese less than once a week, and limit red meat consumption to less than 4 times a week. They keep their sweet tooth in check, eating desserts, pastries or sweets less than 5 times a week, and they use less than a tablespoon of butter or margarine a day.
The more they abided by these specific diet tips, the more points study participants earned. In fact, the group with the highest MIND diet scores was 53% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s during the study period compared to the group with the lowest MIND diet scores. The group in the middle was 35% less likely to develop the disease compared to the lowest scoring group—good news for those of us who’d never give up cheese.
Yes, the DASH and Mediterranean diets also reduced Alzheimer’s risk in the study—39% and 54% respectively—but only among those who most strictly adhered to the plans. And adherence doesn’t always come easy on those diets, Morris says. Both call for higher fruit and veggie consumption than the MIND diet, and, sadly, Americans are not all that great at getting enough produce. “If you like fruits and vegetables, you can consume more,” she says, “but our numbers of necessary servings are much smaller than those other diets.”
The MIND diet’s specific modifications to the Mediterranean and DASH diets were made with dementia prevention in mind, which may explain why it appears to have a leg up when it comes to boosting brainpower, too. Berries, for example, are the only fruit specifically called out by name in the MIND diet. (Try adding to one of these fruit smoothie recipes.) That’s because of a lengthy history of research showing the fruit—in particular, blueberries—seems to slow cognitive decline, Morris says, although researchers don’t yet fully understand how or why. The MIND diet also emphasizes leafy greens unlike the Mediterranean and DASH diets, since they offer especially effective antioxidants and vitamins that protect the brain from damage.
The study participants have undergone neurological evaluations yearly since 1997 as part of the ongoing Rush Memory and Aging Project. The current study focused on 923 adults of an average age of 80 who didn’t have Alzheimer’s at the start of the project, and who also completed questionnaires about their dietary habits from 2004 to 2013.
While the results are promising, because the study focused on how these participants were already eating—rather than prescribing the MIND diet as an intervention—further research is needed to prove if the MIND diet actually causes this drop in Alzheimer’s risk, though the researchers suspect that the diet is in fact responsible. But there’s no harm in making your meals a little more MIND-friendly, considering it’s a well-rounded, primarily plant-based diet supported by a large body of scientific research about nutrition and the brain, Morris says. So, in the meantime, we’ll be upping our berry intake accordingly.
Published: April 20, 2015. By Sarah Klein
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