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Diet

How the MIND Diet Helps Protect Memory and Thinking Skills

10 specific foods can help slow cognitive decline and maintain brain health.

Key points

  • Your diet can affect the way your brain ages.
  • The MIND diet plan can help you retain brain health and cognitive skills.
  • Many popular foods that you may already eat on a regular basis are included in the MIND diet.
RitaE/Pixabay, used with permission
Many common and well-loved foods fit into the MIND diet plan.
Source: RitaE/Pixabay, used with permission

The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (more commonly known as the MIND diet) combines components of the Mediterranean diet with components of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet to recommend specific foods believed to slow down the cognitive decline that often comes with aging. Now, researchers at Rush University Medical Center, where the MIND Diet was developed and first introduced in 2015, have confirmed the effectiveness of the diet in protecting aging brains from dementia.

In a study published in a September 2021 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, the researchers concluded that those participants who followed the MIND diet suffered no cognitive decline, even if they developed the signature plaques and tangles in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer’s.

The researchers had been collecting food frequency questionnaires annually from study participants in the Alzheimer’s Disease Center’s Memory and Aging Project since 2004. Food frequency questionnaires tell the researchers how often each participant ate 144 different types of foods, on average, throughout the previous year, including both “brain healthy” and unhealthy foods and food groups. For instance, the questionnaire might ask, “How often do you eat whole grains?” or “How often do you eat fried foods?” Several measures were taken to help ensure the accuracy of the participants’ self-reporting.

The study participants agreed to be assessed and tested annually and to have their brains autopsied upon their death. Those who at least moderately followed the MIND diet showed no cognitive decline over the years. Even those who were found upon autopsy to have accumulated the plaques and tangles indicative of Alzheimer’s showed no symptoms of cognitive decline while they were alive and following the diet.

Studies have found that strictly adhering to either the Mediterranean or DASH diet can also help stave off dementia, but even with only moderate adherence, the MIND diet appears to be effective. Although the MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH diets and features most of the same eating and lifestyle patterns, it highlights 10 foods associated with protecting brain health. The dietary guidelines include:

  • At least one serving leafy greens and one other veggie each day,
  • Berries at least twice a week
  • One ounce of nuts every day
  • Olive oil when you use fat
  • At least three servings of whole grains daily
  • Fish at least once a week
  • Beans or legumes at least every other day
  • Poultry twice a week
  • If you drink alcohol, one 5-ounce glass of red wine a day

Foods to limit on the MIND diet include red meat, cheese, butter or margarine, fried foods, and pastries and sweets.

References

Klodian Dhana, Bryan D. James, Puja Agarwal, et. al. MIND Diet, Common Brain Pathologies, and Cognition in Community-Dwelling Older Adults. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, September 2021; 83 (2): 683

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