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Diet Review: Mind Diet | source of nutrition

Do you find yourself confused by the endless promotion of weight loss strategies and diet plans? In this series, we look at some popular diets — and review the research that underpins them.

What is this?

The Mediterranean-DASH nutritional intervention to delay neurodegeneration, or the MIND diet, targets aging brain health. Dementia is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, leading many people to seek ways to prevent cognitive decline. In 2015, Dr. Martha Claire Morris and colleagues at Rush University Medical Center and Harvard Chan School of Public Health published two papers introducing the MIND diet. [1,2] Both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet have already been linked to maintaining cognitive function, presumably through their protective effects against cardiovascular disease, which in turn keeps the brain healthy.

The research team followed a group of older adults for up to 10 years from the Rush Memory and Aging Project (MAP), a study of a population free of dementia at the time of enrollment. They are recruited from more than 40 retirement communities and large public housing units in the Chicago area. Over 1,000 participants filled out annual nutritional questionnaires for nine years and underwent two cognitive assessments. The MIND diet score was developed to identify foods and nutrients, along with daily serving sizes, related to protection against dementia and cognitive decline. The results of the study yielded fifteen nutritional components that were rated either as “brain healthy” or as unhealthy. Participants with the highest scores on the MIND diet had a much slower rate of cognitive decline compared to those with the lowest scores. [1] The MIND diet’s effects on cognition showed greater effects than either the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet alone.

How it works

The purpose of the research was to see if the MIND diet, which is based in part on the Mediterranean diet and DASH, could directly prevent the onset of dementia or slow its progression. The three diets highlight plant foods and limit the intake of animal foods and saturated fats. The Mind Diet recommends including “brain-healthy” foods, and five unhealthy foods to limit your intake.

The healthy items the MIND diet guidelines suggest include:

Unhealthy items that are high in saturated and trans fats include:

  • Less than 5 servings per week of pastries and sweets
  • Less than 4 servings per week of red meat (including beef, pork, lamb and products made with these meats)
  • Less than one serving per week of cheese and fried foods
  • Less than 1 tablespoon per day of butter/margarine

Wine was included as one of the original 15 food ingredients in the MIND diet score, with a moderate amount found to be associated with cognitive health. [1] However, in Mind’s subsequent experiments it was omitted for “safety” reasons. [9] The effect of alcohol on an individual is complex, so comprehensive recommendations about alcohol cannot be made. Based on an individual’s unique personal and family history, alcohol presents each person with a different set of benefits and risks. Whether or not to include alcohol is a personal decision that should be discussed with your healthcare provider. For more information, read Alcohol: Balancing the Risks and Benefits.

Search so far

The MIND diet contains foods rich in certain vitamins, carotenoids, and flavonoids that are believed to protect the brain by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. The researchers found that the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease was 53% lower for those with the highest MIND scores. Even those participants with moderate MIND scores showed a 35% lower rate compared to those with lowest MIND scores. [2] The results did not change even after adjusting for dementia-related factors including healthy lifestyle behaviors, cardiovascular-related conditions (such as high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes), depression and obesity, supporting the conclusion that the MIND diet is linked. Preserving cognitive function.

Although the goal of the MIND diet was on brain health, it may also benefit heart health, diabetes, and certain types of cancer because it includes components of the Mediterranean diet and DASH, which have been shown to reduce the risk of these diseases.

Additional published studies and ongoing trials review the potential benefits of the MIND diet:

  • A higher MIND diet score as evidenced by a higher intake of foods in the MIND diet was associated with better cognitive functions and slower cognitive decline in a group of adults 65 and older, even when accounting for those with Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. [3]
  • When the MIND diet’s highest scores were compared to the lowest in a group of participants with a history of stroke, those with the highest scores had a slower rate of cognitive decline after nearly 6 years of follow-up. [4]
  • Researchers who followed a group of Puerto Rican adults ages 45 to 75 living in Boston, Massachusetts, after 8 years found that those with the highest MIND diet scores had better cognitive function than those with the lowest scores. They also noted that greater poverty and less education were closely associated with lower MIND diet scores and lower cognitive function. [5]
  • Researchers who followed a group of Australian adults aged 60 to 64 for 12 years found that the group with the highest MIND diet scores had 53% lower odds of developing cognitive impairment than those with the lowest scores. [6]
  • Researchers following 2,092 participants from the Framingham Heart Study found that higher MIND diet scores were associated with better cognitive function and memory, and a greater overall brain volume. However, the diet was not associated with slower rates of cognitive decline. [7]
  • A prospective cohort study of more than 16,000 women aged 70 and over from the Nurses’ Health Study found that long-term adherence to the MIND diet was moderately associated with higher memory scores later in life. [8]
  • A three-year, randomized, multicenter trial funded by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health examines the effects of a MIND diet intervention on cognitive decline. [9] Followed 604 older participants to compare the effects of the MIND diet with moderate calorie restriction or a moderate diet with mild calorie restriction on cognitive function. Various biochemical markers of dementia and inflammation will be measured in all participants.
  • a Clinical trial from John’s Hopkins University to compare the effects of the modified Atkins diet with the MIND diet on cognition and levels of specific genes related to Alzheimer’s disease.

Possible pitfalls

  • The Mind Diet is flexible in that it does not include strict meal plans. However, this also means that people will need to create their own meal plans and recipes based on the foods recommended in the MIND diet. This can be difficult for those who do not cook. Those who eat out frequently may need to spend some time reviewing restaurant menus.
  • Although a diet plan specifies daily and weekly amounts of foods to include and not to include, it does not limit the diet to food intake. Just these foods. It also does not provide meal plans or emphasize portion sizes or exercises.

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The MIND diet can be a healthy eating plan that includes Mediterranean and DASH dietary patterns, both of which have suggested benefits in preventing and improving cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and supporting healthy aging. When used in conjunction with the Balanced Dishes Guide, the diet may also promote healthy weight loss if desired. More research needs to be done to expand the MIND studies into other populations, and clinical trials are underway to demonstrate that the MIND diet reduces the cognitive decline that occurs with aging.

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The contents of this website are for educational purposes and are not intended to provide personal medical advice. You should seek advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. Source Nutrition does not recommend or endorse any products.


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