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The MIND diet decreases Alzheimer’s risk by 50%, study finds.

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In 2015, researcher Martha Morris created a diet specially designed for brain health based on the scientific evidence on the best brain foods [1] and called it the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay). The MIND diet comprises brain-beneficial components from two extensively researched diets- the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). For the past 3 years, the US News and World Report has consistently ranked them as the “best diets overall” in the first and second position, respectively [2]

The Mediterranean-DASH diet mashup

The Mediterranean diet originated over 70 years ago and in the last 5 years, more than 5000 research papers have been published on it. It recommends intake of whole grains, beans and legumes, fruits and vegetables, fish, and olive oil, which are foods good for the brain. It limits intake of red meat and sweets and allows for limited alcohol consumption. This diet has shown to have brain benefits.

A 2022 review of 28 studies found that following the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 40% and improve mental skills and memory [3].

The DASH diet was developed over 30 years ago to manage high blood pressure. A DASH diet meal plan will contain an increased intake of fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, chicken, fish, and nuts. This plan also recommends limiting intake of sodium to 1500mg/day, and reducing intake of processed foods, sweets, and sugary beverages. Due to its nutritional make up, this diet has been studied for its brain health.

A high DASH diet score was associated with around 40% lower risk of Alzheimer’s, 28% lower risk of mild cognitive impairment, and improvement in memory skills [4]

It is clear why the MIND diet was created by combining the brain-specific recommendations from these two diets to supercharge brain health and help combat cognitive disorders. 

Is the MIND diet ‘THE’ diet for Alzheimer’s prevention?

The MIND diet focuses on 15 specific dietary components- 10 healthy foods that are recommended and 5 foods that must be limited [1]. The MIND diet adherence is calculated in terms of scores with the maximum being 15 points.

10 healthy foods to enjoy

Recommendation

Green leafy vegetables

>6 servings a week

Nuts

≥5 servings a week

Other vegetables

>1 serving a day

Whole grains

≥3 servings a day

Berries

≥2 servings a day

Beans

>3 meals a week

Fish (not fried)

≥1 meals a week

Poultry (not fried)

≥2 meals a week

Olive oil

Primary oil used

Wine (in moderation)

1 glass a day

Wine is suggested in moderation, more to limit intake as opposed to starting alcohol consumption if you currently abstain [13].

5 unhealthy foods to limit

Recommendation

Butter, Margarine

<1 tablespoon per day

Cheese

<1 serving a week

Red meat

<4 meals a week

Fried foods

<1 time a week

Sweets

<5 servings a week


In the original study of over 1000 participants in their 80s, who were scored on their MIND diet adherence, it was found that those scoring the highest (8.5 or higher out of 15 points) had 53% lower risk of Alzheimer’s [1]. In fact, those who did moderately well with a score of 7-8/15, had 35% lower risk [1]. A study found that the MIND diet scores were better at predicting cognitive decline compared to Mediterranean and DASH diet scores [5]

What makes the MIND diet so powerful?

The MIND diet is specific in terms of the amounts of foods that are recommended and limited, which helps provide a clear idea compared to recommendations that vaguely tell you to “increase” or “decrease” intake of certain foods. The MIND diet has based its specific recommendations on rigorous scientific evidence. The green leafy vegetables, berries, fish, and nuts recommendations are based on results of large studies that have shown brain benefits in those recommended amounts [1]. These foods are rich in nutrients like folate, anthocyanins, and omega 3 which are protective and nourishing for the brain. 

A 2021 review of 13 studies found that every 1-point increase in MIND diet score decreased the risk of cognitive impairment by 15-20% [6] and 80% of the studies found an improvement in memory and cognition [6].

The MIND diet provides brain benefits in multiple ways:

  1. Improves brain structure: Bigger brains are better and MIND diet helps preserve brain structure, keeping it in its best shape. Studies found that high adherence to the MIND diet increased the size of brain structures involved in memory, learning, emotions, and movement [7][8] and helped reverse brain damage caused by obesity [9].

  1. Protects against brain inflammation and oxidative stress [10][11][6]: Inflammation in the brain is associated with many cognitive disorders. When harmful compounds accumulate faster than they can be cleared, oxidative stress takes place which is also detrimental to brain health. Dietary compounds can help prevent and manage inflammation and oxidative stress. Omega 3 from nuts and fish, antioxidants and vitamins from berries and vegetables, fibre from wholegrains and beans are known to decrease inflammatory compounds and oxidative stress. Those who supplemented their diet with olive oil or nuts had lower inflammatory compounds in their blood.

  1. Lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s [6]: Accumulation of a toxic compound that forms plaques in the brain is one of the hallmark signs of Alzheimer’s. The nutrients in the MIND diet help to decrease the production and accumulation of this compound and help to clear it from the brain. Individual foods like walnuts, olive oil, whole rye, and beans, which are recommended in the MIND diet were shown to reduce plaque formation and accumulation. Anthocyanins in berries improve blood flow in the brain, which can lower inflammation, decrease plaque formation, and improve memory [12]. In addition, the MIND diet restricts intake of unhealthy fats like trans fat and saturated fats which are shown to promote plaque formation. 

The MIND diet plan

Adopting the MIND diet can be easy by making small changes and swaps in your current diet. A simple diet plan presented below can be used as inspiration:


Recommended Foods

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Snack

Green leafy vegetables

 

x

 

 

Nuts

x

 

 

x

Other vegetables

 

x

 

Whole grains

x

x

x

 

Berries

x

 

 

x

Beans

 

 

x

Fish (not fried)

 

x

 

 

Poultry (not fried)

 

 

 

 

Olive oil

 

x

x

 


Meal

Sample meal plan

Breakfast

  • Steel cut oatmeal with low fat yoghurt and berries 

Snack

  • Handful of walnuts
  • Fruit salad

Lunch

  • Salmon cooked in olive oil
  • Brown rice
  • Mixed greens salad

Snack

  • Sandwich made of wholegrain bread, olive spread, tomato, cucumber

Dinner

  • Whole grain pasta with tomato sauce
  • Grilled mixed vegetables drizzled with olive oil
  • Mixed bean soup

How brain-healthy is your diet?

You can calculate your MIND diet score here to find how your current eating plan is benefiting your brain:

References

  1. Morris, M. C. et al. (2015). MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's & dementia : the journal of the Alzheimer's Association11(9), 1007–1014.
  2. U.S. News & World Report (2019). U.S. News Best Diet Rankings. [online] 
  3.  Fu, J. et al. (2022) Association between the Mediterranean diet and cognitive health among healthy adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Nutrition. 9:946361.
  4. van den Brink, A.C. et al. (2019). The Mediterranean, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), and Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) Diets Are Associated with Less Cognitive Decline and a Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease—A Review. Advances in Nutrition, 10(6).
  5. Morris, M.C., Tangney, C.C., Wang, Y., Barnes, L.L., Bennett, D. and Aggarwal, N. (2014). MIND DIET SCORE MORE PREDICTIVE THAN DASH OR MEDITERRANEAN DIET SCORES. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 10(4), p.P166. 
  6. Kheirouri, S. et al. (2021). MIND diet and cognitive performance in older adults: a systematic review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, pp.1–19.
  7. Drouka, A. et al. (2022). Dietary and Nutrient Patterns and Brain MRI Biomarkers in Dementia-Free Adults. Nutrients, 14(11), p.2345.
  8. Thomas, A. et al. (2022). Association of a MIND Diet with Brain Structure and Dementia in a French Population. The Journal Of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease
  9. Arjmand, G. et al. (2022). Effect of MIND diet intervention on cognitive performance and brain structure in healthy obese women: a randomized controlled trial. Scientific Reports, 12(1).
  10. Wärnberg, J. et al. (2009). Nutrition, Inflammation, and Cognitive Function. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1153(1), pp.164–175. 
  11. Matt, S.M. et al. (2018). Butyrate and Dietary Soluble Fiber Improve Neuroinflammation Associated With Aging in Mice. Frontiers in Immunology, 9.
  12. Essa, M. et al. (2014). Neuroprotective effects of berry fruits on neurodegenerative diseases. Neural Regeneration Research, [online] 9(16), p.1557. 
  13. Mayo Clinic. (2019). Improve brain health with the MIND diet. [online]
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