Currently, dementia affects 1 in 20 individuals over the age of 65 and 1 in 5 over the age of 80. Alzheimer’s Disease International, the global voice on dementia, predicts that the number of people with dementia will nearly triple worldwide by 2050.
The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. It “accounts for 50-60 percent of all cases and is caused by abnormal brain tissue changes.” In the United States, 1 in 9 people age 65 and over has Alzheimer’s. (Source)
Preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease has become not only an urgent national priority here in the U.S., but also a global health crisis.
(Check out this post for a dementia/Alzheimer’s refresher – the difference, the risk factors and the symptoms.)
Nutrition and Brain Health
According to Neal Barnard, M.D., president of the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “Alzheimer’s disease isn’t a natural part of aging. By staying active and moving plant-based foods to the center of our plates, we have a fair shot at rewriting our genetic code for this heart-wrenching, and costly, disease.” (Source)
In March of 2016, a cardiovascular health study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease researching physical activity and gray matter. It found:
“Several lines of evidence suggest that sedentary behavior may be a risk factor for the development of age-related cognitive impairment. A recent review  summarizes evidence to suggest that approximately 13% of AD cases worldwide may be attributable to sedentary behavior. A 25% reduction in sedentary behavior could potentially prevent more than 1 million AD cases globally.”
Physicians Committee has published these seven guidelines to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, several of which are nutrition-based:
- Minimize your intake of saturated fats and trans fats.
- Eat plant-based foods.
- Consume 15 milligrams of vitamin E, from foods, each day.
- Take a B12 supplement.
- Avoid vitamins with iron and copper.
- Choose aluminum-free products.
- Exercise for 120 minutes each week.
This connection between brain health and nutrition continues to be heavily studied.
A 2010 article titled Food Combination and Alzheimer’s Disease Risk in “JAMA Neurology” that assessed the association between food combination and Alzheimer’s disease risk identified “a dietary pattern strongly associated with lower Alzheimer’s disease risk. This dietary pattern was characterized by higher intakes of nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, and dark and green leafy vegetables and a lower intake of high-fat dairy products, red meat, organ meat and butter.” (Source)
And, remember when the Mediterranean diet was all the rage? This heart-healthy diet, it turns out, may also be brain healthy. An article published by Mayo Clinic points to studies that show “people who closely follow a Mediterranean diet are less likely to have Alzheimer’s disease than people who don’t follow the diet.”
The MIND Diet
A study published in the March 2015 issue of “Alzheimer’s & Dementia,” the Journal of the American Alzheimer’s Association, is the latest to conclude that what you eat can affect the health of your brain.
Rush University Medical Center in Chicago developed a diet plan called the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet that may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53 percent. “Even those who didn’t stick to the diet perfectly but followed it ‘moderately well’ reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by about a third,” according to the study. (Source)
For the study, over 900 people ages 58 to 98 completed food questionnaires and underwent repeated neurological testing. Its findings state that, “Participants whose diets most closely followed the MIND recommendations have a level of cognitive function the equivalent of a person 7.5 years younger.”
While there are many factors that combine to determine who gets the disease like genetics and exercise, this diet “helped slow the rate of cognitive decline and protect against Alzheimer’s regardless of other risk factors,” according to CBS News.
The study also revealed that the MIND diet may slow cognitive decline, both for people at risk and not at risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
A Closer Look
The Mind diet combines some elements of the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. It outlines these ten healthy and five unhealthy food options along with their recommendations. These are relatively solid recommendations, though I might tweak them a little bit. So below you’ll see the MIND Diet RECOMMENDATIONS and ME if there is a difference in my opinion.
10 “brain healthy food groups”
- Green leafy vegetables (vitamin A, vitamin C and other nutrients). RECOMMENDATION: Six or more servings a week of green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli, collards, etc. provide the greatest benefits.
- Other vegetables. Eating a salad and at least one other vegetable each day is recommended. ME: One salad per day plus three other vegetables per day.
- Nuts (healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants). RECOMMENDATION: Eat nuts at least five times a week. ME: Nuts and/or seeds five times per week.
- Berries. RECOMMENDATION: Eat berries at least twice a week. ME: Berries are so nutritious, go for three times a week plus three servings of other whole fruits.
- Beans (fiber, protein). RECOMMENDATION: Eat beans three times a week. ME: Legumes may be easier to digest if they are soaked as recommended before cooking.
- Whole grains. RECOMMENDATION: Eat at least three servings a day. ME: Grains are an issue for many. If they’re not a problem for you, they could be if you consume them three or more times per day.
- Fish. RECOMMENDATION: Eat fish once a week.
- Poultry. RECOMMENDATION: Eat two or more servings a week.
- Olive oil. RECOMMENDATION: Use as your primary oil at home. ME: Definitely use olive oil for salads and low-heat cooking. For higher-heat cooking, use coconut oil.
- Wine. RECOMMENDATION: Drink a glass of wine every day (just one).
Five “unhealthy food groups”
- Red meat. RECOMMENDATION: Limit to no more than four servings a week. ME: No more than two servings a week.
- Butter and stick margarine. RECOMMENDATION: Limit to less than a tablespoon a day. ME: No margarine ever; use coconut oil freely.
- Cheese. RECOMMENDATION: Limit to no more than once a week.
- Pastries and sweets. RECOMMENDATION: Limit to no more than five per week. ME: Limit to once per week.
- Fried foods and fast food. RECOMMENDATION: Limit to no more than once a week. ME: Limit to once or twice per month.
A couple foods excluded from these food groups are eggs and avocados. They are part of the DASH diet as well as the Mediterranean diet, so perhaps they were just overlooked.
My opinion on eggs is that they are the perfect protein and are one of the better sources of vitamin E. According to Mayo Clinic, they don’t contribute to high cholesterol like trans fats do. The one exception may be for those with diabetes.
Avocados were notably missing as a healthy fat that seems to me should be included. I would include one or more per week.
The MIND diet is still being studied, as is the science on the connection between diet and the brain, so we may see these foods changing in the future.
As Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., Physicians Committee director of nutrition education points out, “We spend trillions of dollars each year on failed drug trials. Let’s take a portion of these funds and invest in educational programs to help people learn about foods that are now clinically proven to be more effective in fighting this global epidemic.” (Source)
Do you follow the MIND diet or something similar? Share your experience below in the comments section. We’d love to hear from you!
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