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How the MIND Diet Could Improve Brain Health

July 12, 2015

In recent years, several studies have shown that diet may play an important role in brain function and protecting the body against certain diseases.

Now, recent research funded by the National Institute on Aging also indicates that a diet rich in berries, green leafy vegetables and even wine may reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53 percent.

The MIND diet—Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, a term coined by researchers at Rush University in Chicago — includes elements of both the Mediterranean and DASH diets. Both diets focus on eating fish every week, multiple servings of fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy products.

Experts say the MIND diet, which separates foods into 10 brain-healthy food groups and five unhealthy food groups, is easier to follow than these diets. However, it still has many of the same benefits, such as improved heart health.

But the MIND diet’s potential benefits for brain health are the most encouraging. More than 5 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s and that number is expected to increase to 16 million people within the next 35 years, making preventative measures all the more important.

Overview of the MIND Diet

Researchers conducted the study with more than 900 Chicago residents ages 58 to 98. Each participant filled out a food questionnaire and underwent ongoing brain testing to identify correlations between their diet and neurological function.

The study found that people who followed the diet moderately reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 35 percent. Those who strictly followed the diet reaped more benefits. They lowered their risk by 53 percent and had a level of cognitive function equivalent to someone nearly eight years younger.

That’s not surprising considering that several foods in the diet, such as strawberries and blueberries, have been linked to improved brain health.

The 10 brain healthy food groups in the MIND diet include green leafy vegetables and other vegetables, beans, berries, nuts, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. The five unhealthy foods are red meats, cheese, butter and margarine, pastries and sweets and fried or fast foods.

The diet calls for three servings of whole grains a day, a salad or one other vegetable a day and berries at least twice a week. Whereas the Mediterranean and DASH diets include all fruits, the MIND diet emphasizes berries because of their impact on cognitive function. The diet also calls for a one-ounce serving of nuts every day, poultry and fish twice a week and beans or legumes every other day. As an added bonus, people who follow the MIND diet can have a five-ounce glass of red wine every day. That’s because red wine contains many compounds, including antioxidants, that have multiple health benefits. However, these benefits are limited to a small amount of alcohol. Consuming alcohol in excess is not good for your overall health. If you aren’t a drinker, grape juice and other natural purple or red-colored drinks (like pomegranate or berry juice) also have the same benefits as red wine.

The MIND diet recommends limiting the five unhealthy foods. It calls for no more than one tablespoon of butter a day and consumption of cheese, fast foods and fried foods to just once a week (or less).

Researchers think that the longer a person eats the MIND diet, the better his or her chances of avoiding Alzheimer’s. However, since this is the first study related to the MIND diet’s impact on Alzheimer’s, more research must be done to establish this connection more firmly.

Either way, a diet like this can improve overall health. We always tell people to eat more fruits, vegetables and lean protein, so it’s encouraging when there’s a potential correlation between these foods and a reduced incidence of very serious diseases. It just proves what we tell our patients every day—you are what you eat.