MIND diet study shows growing evidence that what you eat may affect your brain health
A new study by researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago shows a diet plan they developed — appropriately called the MIND diet — 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 by about a third.
New findings add to a growing body of evidence that strongly suggests your overall dietary pattern matters more than single nutrients when it comes to Alzheimer’s prevention.
Eating a combination of healthful foods that deliver a wide range of protective nutrients while, at the same time, minimizing your intake of foods that may harm brain cells is what counts. While nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, PhD, the lead author of the MIND diet study acknowledges, that genetics and other factors like smoking, exercise and education also play a role, she says the MIND diet helped slow the rate of cognitive decline and protect against Alzheimer’s regardless of other risk factors.
MIND diet recommendations
The MIND diet breaks its recommendations down into 10 “brain healthy food groups” a person should eat and five “unhealthy food groups” to avoid.It combines many elements of two other popular nutrition plans which have been proven to benefit heart health: the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. (MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.
MIND diet differs from Mediterranean and DASH & proved more effective at reducing Alzheimer’s risk.
The MIND diet also differs from those plans in a few significant ways and proved more effective than either of them at reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. The diet recommends frequent servings of green leafy vegetables. Kale, spinach, broccoli, collards and other greens are packed with vitamins A and C and other nutrients. At least two servings a week can help, and researchers found six or more servings a week provide the greatest brain benefits. The Mediterranean and DASH diets do not specifically recommend these types of vegetables, but the MIND diet study found that including greens in addition to other veggies made a difference in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. All three diets, when closely followed, offered significant protection against Alzheimer’s. The Mediterranean diet lowered Alzheimer’s risk by 54 per cent, the MIND diet by 53 per cent and the DASH diet by 39 per cent. But only the MIND diet, however, was shown to guard against Alzheimer’s when not followed strictly. Participants who followed the plan moderately well were 35-per-cent less likely to develop the disease compared with those with the lowest adherence scores.
The MIND diet for Optimal brain health.
While we wait for other studies to confirm the protective link between the MIND diet and Alzheimer’s risk, Leslie Beck a registered dietician based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto says there’s no reason to delay adopting this brain-friendly eating pattern. Follow the food guide below to earn the highest MIND diet score.
Leafy green vegetables: At least 6 servings/week One serving: ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw (e.g., salad greens) Eating plenty of vegetables has been linked to a slower rate of cognitive decline in older adults, but leafy greens (e.g., spinach, kale, Swiss chard, beet greens, collards, rapini, broccoli, arugula, Romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce) seem to offer the greatest protection. Leafy greens are excellent sources of vitamin K, folate, beta-carotene and lutein, nutrients thought to help preserve brain functioning. (You’ll get more beta-carotene and lutein if you eat your greens cooked rather than raw.)
Other vegetables: At least 1 serving/day One serving: ½ cup cooked or raw vegetables In addition to salad greens and green leafy vegetables, include other green vegetables (e.g., asparagus, green beans, green peppers), orange (e.g., carrots, sweet potato, butternut squash), yellow (e.g., yellow peppers), red (e.g., red peppers, tomato, beets), purple (e.g. eggplant, purple cabbage) and white/tan (e.g., onions, garlic, cauliflower, mushrooms) to consume a wide range of protective phytochemicals.
Berries: At least 2 servings/week One serving: ½ cup Berries are rich in polyphenols, phytochemicals that protect brain cells by fighting free-radical damage, reducing inflammation and removing toxic proteins that accumulate with age. Blueberries and strawberries appear to be most potent in terms of brain health.
Nuts: At least 5 servings/week One serving: 1 ounce, about ¼ cup Nuts (all types) help lower elevated blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol and guard against Type 2 diabetes, factors that contribute to memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease. Nuts are a good source of vitamin E; higher vitamin E levels are linked to less cognitive decline as we age. Walnuts may be the king of nuts when it comes to brain health. Research suggests eating more walnuts can help improve memory, concentration and the speed at which your brain processes information. Walnuts deliver polyphenols (like berries) and an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha linolenic acid.
Legumes: At least 4 servings/week One serving: ½ cup cooked Lentils and beans (e.g., kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas), packed with low glycemic carbohydrates, provide a steady stream of fuel (glucose) to the brain. Plus, adding beans to your diet can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
Whole grains: At least 3 servings/day One serving: 1 slice 100-per-cent whole-grain bread, ½ cup cooked brown rice, quinoa, whole-grain pasta, oatmeal, 1 cup 100-per-cent whole-grain, ready-to-eat breakfast cereal Foods that promote a healthy cardiovascular system, such as whole grains, are also good for your brain. That’s because your heart and blood vessels supply nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to the brain. If your brain doesn’t get the blood flow it needs, it can impair your memory and thinking abilities.
Fish: At least 1 serving/week One serving: 3 ounces cooked Oily fish such as salmon, trout, sardines and herring are plentiful in DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid essential for brain function. A higher intake of DHA is thought to slow brain aging and improve memory and thinking skills. It may also help prevent the build-up of an Alzheimer’s-related protein called beta amyloid.
Poultry: At least 2 servings/week One serving: 3 ounces cooked As part of a healthy eating pattern, eating more poultry – and less red meat – is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Olive oil: Use as your primary cooking oil
Olive oil is a rich source of monounsaturated fat, the type that helps reduce inflammation and prevents blood-vessel dysfunction. Extra-virgin olive oil also contains oleocanthal, a phytochemical that may boost production of two key enzymes believed to be critical in removing beta-amyloid from the brain.
Wine: One serving/day One serving: 5 ounces Studies suggest that one glass of wine per day helps preserve memory and reduces Alzheimer’s risk. Low levels of alcohol are thought to have anti-inflammatory effects in the brain. Too much alcohol, however, can damage the brain.
Limit ‘brain-unfriendly foods’ To get a top MIND diet score you must also limit butter/margarine to less than 1 tablespoon/day, fast or fried food less than once/week, red meat fewer than four times/week, cheese less than once/week and pastries and sweets less than five times/week.
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