The MIND Eating Pattern

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia, is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that affects an estimated 5.4 million Americans. It is the sixth leading cause of death among all adults and the fifth leading cause for those aged 65 or older. The cause of Alzheimer’s is not completely understood, and most likely is due to a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. 

One lifestyle factor that has the potential to decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is our food choices. Food choices play an important role in health, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. It’s becoming more clear that nutrition also has an important role in healthy brain functioning because the brain requires a large amount of energy and variety of nutrients.

It’s well-known that the nutrients in vegetables (especially green leafy vegetables, which are good sources of folate, vitamin E, and carotenoids), seafood (a good source of omega-3 fatty acids), and berries (a source of polyphenols) play important roles in brain health. More limited data are available on the benefits of monounsaturated fat, carotenoids, polyphenols, and vitamin D. In addition to consuming more nutrients important to healthy brain function, diets high in saturated and trans fats increase cognitive decline and the risk of developing dementia.

The MIND diet

Martha Clare Morris, a nutritional epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, conducted a research study using a nutrition approach she developed called the MIND diet, a combination of the DASH and Mediterranean diet plans. Morris’ group tracked the food intake and health of 960 Chicago community residents aged 58–98 years who were followed, on average, for 4.7 years. During this timeframe, 144 developed Alzheimer’s disease. Morris found that the MIND diet lowered risk of Alzheimer’s by about 35% for people who followed it moderately well, and up to 53% for people who closely followed the diet guidelines.

What is the MIND diet?

The MIND diet draws from the DASH and Mediterranean diets, focusing specifically on 10 food groups that promote brain health:

  1. Leafy green vegetables including spinach, broccoli, chard, cabbage, kale, mustard and collard greens. In the Rush Memory and Aging Project, the rate of cognitive decline among people who consumed 1–2 servings of dark green leafy vegetables each day was the equivalent of being 11 years younger in age compared with those who rarely or never consumed green leafy vegetables. Green leafy vegetables are rich sources of lutein, folate, vitamin E, beta carotene, and polyphenols, nutrients that have been related to brain health.
  2. All other vegetables which are good sources of potassium, folate, and polyphenols.
  3. Nuts to provide plant-sources of protein that are good sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and also very low in saturated fats.
  4. Berries have been demonstrated to improve memory and brain neuroprotection as well as slow cognitive decline.
  5. Legumes, another plant-based protein source that is high in polyphenols and low in saturated fat.
  6. Whole grains to provide B vitamins, including folate.
  7. Fish one or two times per week for beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.
  8. Poultry as a lower fat protein source.
  9. Olive oil, high in monounsaturated fatty acids.
  10. Wine, in moderation and if desired.

The MIND diet also recommends avoiding foods from these five groups that are high in saturated fat, trans fatty acids, and added sugar that not only are detrimental to a healthy brain, but also to a healthy body overall:

  1. Red meat
  2. Butter and stick margarine
  3. Cheese
  4. Pastries and sweets
  5. Fried or fast food

The daily meal plan includes:

  • 3 servings of whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and whole grain bread
  • A large salad that contains a variety of vegetables, including dark green leafy vegetables
  • One additional vegetable serving
  • 6 oz of wine, if desired
  • 1 oz of nuts, either included in a meal or as a snack
  • Protein from chicken, 1-2 servings of fish per week, or legumes with red meat limited to no more than 4 servings per week.
  • ½ cup serving of berries, especially blueberries and strawberries, at least twice each week
  • Olive oil is used as the primary source of fat, both in cooking and at the table.

The MIND diet is realistic in that no foods are completely forbidden:  no more than 5 servings per week of sweets or pastries, less than 1 tablespoon of butter or stick margarine per day, and less than 1 serving per week of cheese, fried food, or fast food.

The good news is that making even small changes in your usual eating habits to follow the MIND diet has the possibility of improving brain health, reducing risk of dementia, and promoting overall health.

References:

Alzheimer’s Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/alzheimers.htm  Accessed 5-11-17. Last updated 10-17-2016.

Morris MC. Nutrition and risk of dementia: overview and methodological issues. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2016;1367(1):31-37. doi:10.1111/nyas.13047.

O’Brien J, Oerekek O, Devore E, Rosner B, Breteler M, Grodstein F. Long term intake of nuts in relation to cognitive function in older women.

By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CHWC

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