The Diet That Reduces Your Risk of Alzheimer’s

The Diet That Reduces Your Risk of Alzheimer’s
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Woman cutting fresh vegetables on cutting board.

With a just-in-time-for-the-holidays reboot, the MIND Diet, which isn't "brand new," is giving a whole new meaning to “mindful eating.” Designed to make your body—and your brain—healthier, you can use the eating plan, which stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, to ward off unhealthy holiday temptations and slash your risk of Alzheimer’s. Sounds like a win-win.

The program is a tasty combo of the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet, both helpful in reducing heart disease risk. And yes, MIND consists of green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and—are you sitting down?—wine!

There's a lot to like about this eating plan that's made the U.S. News & World Report list of "Best Diets" a few times, and has been ranked the easiest diet to follow, which gives it lots of curb appeal.

The Mind Diet Payoff

In the original study published in 2015 in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association, the MIND diet reduced Alzheimer's disease risk by as much as 53% if participants stuck to the diet rigorously and by about 35% if they only followed it moderately well. Bottom line: The longer you eat this, the lower your risk for Alzheimer's disease.

The authors devised the MIND diet score "that specifically captures dietary components shown to be neuroprotective and related it to change in cognition over an average 4.7 years among 960 participants of the Memory and Aging Project." They used a questionnaire and tests to assess cognition.

And about those foods they recommend below: "The Mediterranean and DASH diets have demonstrated effects on the reduction of cardiovascular conditions and risk factors which raises the possibility that the MIND diet association with cognitive decline may be through its effects on cardiovascular disease," the authors wrote. "The MIND diet was based on the dietary components of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, including emphasis on natural plant-based foods and limited intake of animal and high saturated fat foods."

To develop the MIND plan, the authors say they "performed extensive reviews of the literature on nutrition and neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline to devise a brain-healthy diet." So, voila!

How to MIND This Diet

But if you're wondering how exactly you go about following this diet, Rush explains that you should try to consume these known brain-healthy foods in this quantity:

  • At least three servings of whole grains, a salad, and one other vegetable every day—along with a glass of wine (and no, if you don't drink it’s not necessary to start now). Whole grains have protective vitamin E and leafy greens have that, plus folate, carotenoids and flavonoids, also brain-protective. Studies show higher consumption of vegetables associated with slower cognitive decline. Although evidence on wine continues to be mixed, previous research has shown the resveratrol in wine helps protect the brain, and that drinking small amounts of alcohol—always recommended—combats inflammation in the brain. Think "moderation," please.
  • A snack of nuts most days. Again, nuts have vitamin E and many nutrition experts recommend walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts as first choices.

  • Beans every other day or so. Cook up some lentils for brain-happy doses of vitamin B.

  • Poultry and berries at least twice a week. Chicken and turkey have vitamins B6 and B12, plus the memory-booster choline. Blueberries come bearing antioxidant gifts and inflammatory properties, a win-win for your brain and body.

  • Fish at least once a week. Fish contains long-chain fatty acids that reduce oxidative damage.

Reduce how much you eat of these unhealthy foods:

  • fried or fast food and cheeses (only one weekly serving of those)
  • red meats
  • butter and stick margarine (only 1 tablespoon per day)
  • pastries and sweets

These limitations aren't just contained in the MIND diet, but occur in several proven, healthy eating plans. This plan is so healthy that you may even lose a few pounds in the process, although it's not listed as a weight loss diet.

Research Continues with MIND Diet

Now, another new, ongoing three-year study, closed for participants, called “The MIND Diet Intervention to Prevent Alzheimer's Disease,” is looking at 600 people, age 65+, without cognitive impairment, who are overweight and don't eat the healthiest diets now. It's also using natural plant-based foods and limited animal and high saturated fat foods, but uniquely specifies green leafy vegetables and berries as well as food component servings that reflect the nutrition-dementia evidence, trial specs say.

It's a joint effort between Rush Medical Center, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the National Institute on Aging, and it will be completed in 2021.

Happy, Healthier Holidays with MIND

They're not here yet, but the lead dietitian for the MIND Diet Intervention to Prevent Alzheimer's Disease at Rush, Jennifer Ventrelle, M.S., R.D., C.P.T., thought ahead to help you prep for healthy holiday eating the MIND way. She reminds us that the MIND plan is comprised of guidelines and not "strict rules," so if you "cheat" you don't have to feel bad as you get right back on the MIND track. Here's how she advises you do that:

  1. Keep actual holidays special: She gives you permission to have some of what you and your family looks forward to at every holiday. After all, that's why they're called holidays. Because you don’t eat this kind of food all the time, it tastes all the better.
  2. Think ahead: This diet isn't all or nothing. You limit, but don't completely ban, certain foods. If you know that a prime rib is on the Christmas menu, start your week by counting Christmas dinner as one upcoming portion as you plan your other meat meals.
  3. Pace yourself: That holiday buffet is so tempting, but Ventrelle says to let your eyes do the feasting before you start grabbing too much of what you should avoid. You already know veggies are your friend on this eating plan and others, so crowd your plate with those delicious darlings before you go for any "limited" items. You may not even miss the foods you need to eat less of.
  4. Be the host (with the most nutritional savvy): You know you should eat beans, and we're talking lentils here, so offer a few colorful types of Middle Eastern-style hummus for yummy plant-powered protein and plenty of vitamins and minerals. Blueberries are considered super foods, so include them with your other desserts, and watch in amazement at how many nutrition-informed guests swipe them up. Chicken and turkey are on your MIND diet-approved list, so pop one in the oven to roast, and then make it center stage on the buffet, carving knives on the side. And don't forget about fish; it’s lovely when a salmon is grilled to perfection and served with cucumbers, lemon wedges, dill and parsley—and a nippy plain yogurt and horseradish sauce.

See you at the party, with healthy eating in MIND.

See more helpful articles:


MIND diet study: Morris, MC (2015). MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s and Dementia, 11.

Three-year on-going MIND study

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