It’s well established that diet has major implications for cognition. Naturally, understanding this has led researchers to develop diet plans aimed at supporting cognitive health through healthy eating habits. One such example comes in the creation of the MIND diet.
Short for the Mediterranean Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, the MIND diet is essentially a combination of a Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Originally developed to improve cardiovascular health, the diets are also well known for their ability to lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of developing diabetes or heart disease.
What’s in the MIND Diet?
Combining the Dash and Mediterranean diets, MIND emphasizes some foods you might suspect would be included in a healthy nutritional plan. Vegetables, berries, nuts, whole grains, fish, olive oil, beans and with a good dose of moderation, even a glass of wine makes an appearance on the list.
Like any diet, MIND can present a challenge in the form of a transition away from what things that are commonplace in modern diets. Fried foods, sweets, cheese, red meat and butter all make the list of foods to avoid.
The diet requires eating a salad, getting at least 3 servings of whole grains and having a snack that includes nuts each day. Beans are mandatory on a every other day basis, while poultry and berries are on a twice a week basis and fish should be consumed at least once per week. While butter is not recommended, MIND allows for just under one tablespoon each day.
MIND and Cognition/Alzheimer’s Disease
As the old adage goes, what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. The MIND diet’s mission to improve cardiovascular health includes a hefty serving of brain healthy foods. But researchers have verified the effect of this nutritional approach on the brain.
A study from the Rush Memory and Aging Project published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia, the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, used annual cognitive testing to examine the decline of 960 older adults over the course of five years. The results showed that the closer someone follows the mind diet, the slower cognitive decline occurs. In the end, the authors of the study determined that results were equivalent to the person’s brain functioning as if it were more than seven years younger.
Among the areas of brain performance impacted by not following the diet were memory and brain speed.
A related study from Rush published in the same journal examined the impact of the MIND diet as well as the two diets it stems from on their own. It looked at Mini Mental State examinations, a food frequency questionnaire and a Clock Drawing Test.
Looking at more than 900 participants from retirement communities and senior public housing centers over an average span of 4.5 years, the study concluded that just a modest adherence to the MIND diet had substantial benefits for the prevention of Alzheimer’s. By contrast, only strict adherence to the DASH and Mediterranean diets were associated with similar results.
A number of studies have been presented at Alzheimer’s research conferences that show the impact of diet on the development of the disease. An Australian study followed 1,220 adults aged 60 and older over a 12-year span. Those who followed the MIND diet had 19% reduced odds of developing mild cognitive impairment or dementia. In this study, the Mediterranean diet did not have the same results.
As research aims to scientifically verify and personalize the MIND diet, becoming acquainted with the approach and the foods involved is a good idea for older adults. While there are other factors at play in determining risk of developing neurodegenerative conditions such as genetics, environment and stress, diet is one of the most controllable elements which contributes to disease development.