The MIND diet promotes consumption of berries — particularly blueberries and strawberries. (Photo: Flickr/storebukkebruse)
There’s a rising interest in how nutrition fuels cognition and memory function long-term — and now, researchers are on to a winning dietary formula. The bonus? Noshing your way to brain benefits doesn’t involve following a strict regimen.
According to a new study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, the so-called “MIND diet” could slash Alzheimer’s risk by 35 percent, even if a person only moderately adheres to the eating plan.
Developed by nutritional epidemiologists at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, the regimen’s full name is the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet.
The MIND diet consists of:
At least three servings of whole grains a day
A salad and one other vegetable a day
A glass of wine a day
A serving of nuts a day
Beans every other day
Poultry and berries at least twice a week
Fish at least once a week
Limit unhealthy-brain foods, especially butter (less than one tablespoon a day), cheese, and fast or fried food
To study its effects, the scientists took data on the food intake of 923 Chicago-dwellers between ages 58 and 98 over the course of a decade.
They used questionnaires to determine just how closely participants’ eating habits mimicked one of three diet plans: the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet, or the MIND diet. The researchers also measured the incidence of Alzheimer’s over a 4.5-year follow-up period, as part of an ongoing research project at Rush to examine facets of cognitive health.
All of the diets seemed to be effective in reducing Alzheimer’s risk. Those who followed DASH saw a 39 percent drop in risk, those who followed the Mediterranean diet saw a 54 percent drop, and those who adhered to the MIND plan saw a 53 percent decrease in cognitive decline.
The biggest finding, though? Those who only moderately stuck to the Mediterranean and DASH diets did not see their Alzheimer’s risk decrease. Those who moderately followed MIND, on the other hand, still saw risk drop by 35 percent.
“I think that will motivate people [to try it],” says Rush nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, PhD, in a statement.
As the name suggests, the MIND diet is a hybrid between the Mediterranean and DASH diets, which are both backed by the National Institute of Health as plans that offer real, research-based benefits to those utilizing them — everything from reducing risk of heart disease and stroke to lowering blood pressure.
There are 15 dietary components to the MIND diet, including 10 that are considered “healthy brain” food groups, and five that are considered “unhealthy-brain” food groups. The point is to eat more from the healthy groups, and less from the unhealthy groups — with stricter adherence to this rule leading to greater benefit. The healthy groups are green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. The unhealthy groups are red meats, butter and margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fast food or fried food.
Notably, whereas the Mediterranean and DASH diets both emphasize fruit consumption in general, MIND encourages berry intake in particular, especially cognitive-boosting blueberries and strawberries.
In the study, the longer men and women followed the MIND diet, the greater their protection against cognitive decline. “As is the case with many health-related habits, including physical exercise, you’ll be healthier if you’ve been doing the right thing for a long time,” says Morris.
Past studies have also shown the DASH and Mediterranean diet plans to be tied to a lower risk of dementia, which, as the current study indicates, seems to be true. The results of the MIND diet study also offer strong preliminary evidence that a combination of facets of the two regimens hold cognitive benefits — and luckily, it’s also easier to follow than the Mediterranean or DASH plans.
Five million people in the United States currently suffer from Alzheimer’s, and that number is expected to jump to 16 million by 2050 — which is even more reason to adopt these dietary practices now.
Although more studies are needed to confirm the brain-boosting benefits of the MIND diet, science has already shown us the health benefits of the brain-boosting foods, even beyond cognition. “It is hard to come up with a potential downside to adopting these dietary habits,” Morris says.