The 'MIND' diet: Eating to Fight Dementia

Another day, another diet makes the headlines. But this one may having staying power for its potential brain health benefits.

Dietary patterns have long been implicated in dementia risk, and research published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia in 2015 suggests that following the MIND diet could reduce that risk by up to half. 

It follows the 2014 Dementia in the Asia Pacific Region report, which cited a “change in diet” as one way to reduce the risk of dementia, a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in cognitive (thinking-related) skills that interferes with everyday life. (Note that dementia is also known as ‘major neurocognitive disorder’.)

Under the MIND – short for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay – diet, natural plant-based foods are encouraged while animal products and those high in saturated fat are limited.

It’s a hybrid of a standard Mediterranean-type diet and the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which was designed to help reduced blood pressure.  

The researchers asked 923 people aged between 58 and 98 years who were living in the US to complete dietary questionnaires and undergo neuropsychological tests. They were tracked for 4.5 years on average. 

Results showed that participants whose usual diets resembled the MIND regime had a 53 per cent lower rate of dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease in particular. Even those who followed the MIND diet only moderately had a 35 per cent lower rate of the condition. 

The diet’s potential effect was unrelated to other healthy lifestyle behaviours and cardiovascular-related conditions, according to the researchers. 

“These data suggest that even modest adherence to the MIND diet score may have substantial benefits for the prevention of AD [Alzheimer’s disease],” they wrote.

By contrast, only strict adherence to either the Mediterranean or DASH diets was associated with reduced rates of dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease.

So exactly what is the MIND diet? 

Unlike the Mediterranean and DASH plans, the MIND diet “uniquely specifies the consumption of berries and green leafy vegetables,” the researchers wrote in Alzheimer’s & Dementia in 2015. 

Furthermore, it “does not specify high fruit consumption (three to four servings per day in the DASH and Mediterranean diets), high dairy (21 servings per day in DASH), high potato consumption (two servings per day in the Mediterranean), or greater than one fish meal per week (0.6 meals per week in the Mediterranean)”, they added.

Instead, the MIND diet involves specific intakes of “10 brain healthy food groups”, namely:

1. wholegrains – at least three servings per day

2. green leafy vegetables – at least six servings per week

3. other vegetables – at least one serving per day 

4. berries – at least two servings per week 

5. fish – at least one serving per week

6. poultry – at least two servings per week

7. beans – more than three servings per week 

8. nuts – at least five servings per week

9. olive oil – “the primary oil usually used at home” 

10. wine – one serving per day.

The MIND diet also limits five food groups, specifically: 

1. red meats and products – less than four servings per week

2. butter and stick margarine – less than one tablespoon per day

3. cheese – less than one serving per week

4. pastries and sweets – less than five servings per week

5. fried/fast food – less than one serving per week. 

However, as the study was observational, the researchers could only conclude an association between the MIND diet and reduced rates of dementia. They couldn’t prove that the diet actually prevented dementia. This issue requires further investigation.

Nevertheless, the researchers concluded that “even modest adjustments” to the diet may help reduce the risk of dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease in particular.

So, is the MIND diet worth following? The answer may depend on individual circumstances, and anyone interested in the plan should consider the need for advice from an appropriate health professional first. 

It’s also important to mention that for some people, dietary changes mightn’t be the only way to reduce dementia risk. According to the Dementia in the Asia Pacific Region report, published by Alzheimer’s Disease International, modifiable risk factors may include “diabetes, midlife hypertension, midlife obesity, depression, physical inactivity, smoking and cognitive inactivity”.

For individual advice, especially if you identify with these risk factors, consult an appropriate health professional for individual advice. 

Vanessa Ilicic, HealthLogix Reporter

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Balance Blog Team

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