Eat Away At Mental Decline: How The ‘MIND’ Diet Can Prevent Cognitive Aging

green leafy vegetables
Whole grains, green leafy vegetables, and red wine: These are some major components of the MIND diet, which has been shown to reduce cognitive decline. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

We spend our youth feeling invincible, then at some point, it seems we start spending the rest of our lives trying to delay getting older. As the years roll on, we begin to find that birthdays are no longer exciting prospects, and turn to anti-aging creams, diets, and fads for some semblance of hope and comfort.

At the end of the day, we can’t delay old age. But with a healthy lifestyle and exercise, we can at least lower our risk of chronic disease and stress, which in turn can slow down the aging process. Now, researchers have pinpointed a specific diet known as MIND — a combination of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH diet — which has shown promise in slowing down cognitive decline among older adults.

The researchers, from Rush University Medical Center, examined some 960 older adults who did not have dementia upon enrolling in the study. Over nearly five years, the researchers tracked the participants, testing their cognitive abilities each year, including episodic memory, working memory, semantic memory, visuospatial ability, and perceptual speed. They also tracked the diets and food frequency — how often certain foods were eaten — of participants, noting specifically how the MIND diet impacted cognitive ability over the years.

They found that people who strictly participated in the MIND diet slowed down their cognitive aging by 7.5 years, hinting that this diet could potentially be a way to prevent Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

“Everyone experiences decline with aging; and Alzheimer’s disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases,” said Martha Clare Morris, lead author of the study, in press release. “Therefore, prevention of cognitive decline, the defining feature of dementia, is now more important than ever. Delaying dementia’s onset by just five years can reduce the cost and prevalence by nearly half.”

Of course, whether this diet can truly preserve someone’s mind for 7.5 years and stave off Alzheimer’s isn’t completely certain — more research will be needed on that front.

What The MIND Diet Entails

The MIND diet, which was developed by lead author and nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, is actually fully termed the Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It’s comprised of 15 dietary components, interestingly divided into 10 “brain-healthy” groups and five unhealthy groups —red meat, butter and margarine, cheese, pastries, and fried/fast food. According to the researchers, successfully sticking to the MIND diet and reaping its benefits would involve consuming at least three servings of whole grains, a green leafy vegetable, and another vegetable, as well as a glass of wine every day. People should also eat beans, poultry, berries, and fish at least once a week, and snack only on nuts. Steering away from those unhealthy foods, and limiting them to very small amounts each week, is ideal. If you’re going to eat fruit, focus on berries, especially blueberries, Morris suggests. “Blueberries are one of the more potent foods in terms of protecting the brain,” she said in the press release.

Research has shown that the protein-rich foods in the Mediterranean diet can help fight uterine cancer, improve memory and cognitive function, reduce the risk of heart disease, help people live longer, and help with weight loss. There’s a myriad of other health benefits that go along with the Mediterranean diet and those similar to it — the antioxidant effects of red wine, olive oil, omega-3 in fish, and vegetables go a long way. The DASH diet, meanwhile, involves plenty of vegetables, low-fat dairy, and whole grains, and was developed to lower blood pressure without having patients rely on medication. The MIND diet is a nice mix of all of these regimens, and it will likely keep your mind sharper as you get older.

Source: Morris M, Tangney C, Wang Y, Sacks F, Barnes L, Bennett D. MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimer’s & Dementia , 2015.

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