Can your diet keep Alzheimer’s at bay?

July 05, 2020

DeepMarine Collagen, fork holding food for a diet to prevent Alzhiemers

As we age, we have come to expect some memory loss and maybe even joke about those “senior moments” when we occasionally forget a name or “lose” the word for a familiar object. And though it might irritate us to feel like we’ve lost control of some part of our brain, that type of memory loss is considered a normal part of aging. In fact, it’s called age associated memory impairment, and it’s generally nothing to worry about.

But for nearly 50 million people, worldwide, memory loss moves beyond normal aging. Nearly 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease. It is the most common form of dementia and growing more common with every passing year. While deaths from other major diseases, like heart disease, have decreased in the last 20 years, deaths from Alzheimer’s have been increasing at an alarming rate.

While researchers worldwide work to find a cure, others have looked at ways to prevent the disease. Researchers at Rush University Medical Center looked at nutrition as prevention. Their studies led them to develop the MIND diet.

What is the MIND diet?

MIND is an acronym for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. Like the name suggests, the MIND diet is a combination of two popular, healthy, doctor-approved diets:

  • Mediterranean diet: Focuses on fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil, healthy grains. Recommends decreasing sweets and red meat. Encourages small portions of dairy, poultry, and eggs. Also encourages exercise and socializing.
  • DASH diet: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is often recommended to help lower high blood pressure. It focuses on fruits, vegetable, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish, poultry, and nuts. It recommends reducing saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, red meat, and sweets.

The MIND diet takes the best of both and adds a focus on foods containing nutrients that benefit the brain. Specifically, those containing healthy fats, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties. Recommended foods include:

  • Leafy green vegetables (for example, kale, spinach, collards)
  • Berries (especially strawberries and blueberries)
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts (skip the salt)
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Olive oil (look for extra virgin)
  • Wine (small amounts)

As with most diets, there is also a list of foods to cut back:

  • Butter/margarine (less than one tablespoon per day)
  • Cheese (less than once per week)
  • Red meat (less than four times per week)
  • Fried or fast food (less than once per week)
  • Sweets (less than five per week)

Following the MIND diet every day may lower your risk of Alzheimer’s by a whopping 54% (WebMD), but even following it some of the time has Alzheimer’s-fighting benefits. And while the DASH and Mediterranean diets that MIND is based on are healthy diets, neither diet alone has been linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s like the MIND diet. It’s the addition of the “brain” foods that tips the scale from healthy to Alzheimer’s healthy.

The science behind the neuroprotective benefits of the MIND diet isn’t clear – we still don’t know exactly what causes Alzheimer’s – but what is clear is that certain foods have a positive effect on the brain. A cure for Alzheimer’s is getting closer every day as researchers around the globe race to untangle the mysteries of the brain. In the meantime, we can make healthy choices every day to protect ourselves from what is a truly heartbreaking disease.

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