According to this study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, the diet’s most stringent adherents had a 53% reduced risk of getting the disease.
Developing the Diet
Martha Clare Morris, PhD, Director of Nutrition and Nutritional Epidemiology at Rush University, and colleagues developed the MIND diet (in researcher parlance: Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) from previous study findings about foods and nutrients appearing to effect brain functioning. They unearthed what appear to be 10 "brain-healthy food groups," identified as green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine; and five "unhealthy" groups, named as red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.
Here’s the MIND Diet in a Nutshell
- 3 or more servings of whole grains, a salad, one other vegetable, and a glass of wine daily
- Beans every other day or so
- Poultry and berries at least twice a week
- Nuts as snacks most days.
- Fish at least once a week
Essentially, MIND is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. But it’s much easier to follow than the Mediterranean, which specifies 3−4 daily servings of fruits and vegetables, plus daily fish consumption.
Behind the Scenes of the Study
Over about 10 years, 923 volunteer residents of Chicago-area retirement communities and senior public housing complexes completed a food-frequency questionnaire. Researchers used a point system to identify how closely they followed the MIND diet, giving them points both when they ate "brain-healthy foods" and when they avoided the "unhealthy" ones. Then they categorized the volunteers into tertiles (a tertile meaning one of three equal groups) based upon high, middle, and low adherence to the MIND diet.
Eventually, 144 residents developed Alzheimer’s. Participants who adhered to the diet rigorously (defined by the researchers as those in the top tertile of scores) had a 53% reduced Alzheimer’s risk compared to those who followed the diet the least (the lowest tertile of scores). Those who followed the MIND diet moderately (defined as the middle tertile of scores) had a 35% reduced risk.
"One of the more exciting things about this [study] is that people who adhered even moderately to the MIND diet had a reduction in their AD risk," Morris said.
Commenting on the food protocol, Morris noted that "Other studies have examined and found protective relations against cognitive decline and dementia for vegetables [particularly green leafy], berries, and fish… Blueberries are rich sources of flavonoids which a limited number of studies have found to slow cognitive decline. There is no data to show that poultry consumption is individually protective. It is a source of low-fat protein and is also high in some B-vitamins that have been related to brain health."
The Mediterranean Diet Also Reduced Risk
When researchers compared the MIND diet with the Mediterranean and DASH diets, both alternative diets were also associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s—54% with the Mediterranean diet and 39% percent with DASH.
But, unlike the MIND diet results, moderate adherence to either diet provided negligible benefits.
Morris didn’t seem surprised by this finding. She explained: "The Mediterranean diet is a cultural diet. The DASH diet was designed to protect against hypertension. Neither of these diets are specific to the foods and nutrients that have been shown to protect the brain. The MIND diet highlights these foods and nutrients that are brain protective."
Of course, because the study was observational—researchers did not do an intervention but recorded results—it's not a surety that stricter MIND diet adherence is responsible for the 53% reduction in Alzheimer’s risk. "The MIND diet needs to be replicated in other studies, including diet intervention trials," she says, "to be confident that the diet has a causal relation to dementia prevention."by