Throughout human history, people have tried to understand the relationships between health and food. Recent research work has specifically focused on food and brain health.
Dementia is described as a condition marked by a decline in cognitive ability severe enough to interfere with daily activities.
One of the most known types of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most prevalent type in individuals older than 65 years.
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition and it is the 6th leading cause of death in the USA. 90% of the cases occur in individuals older than 65 years.
Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease causes progressive and permanent cognitive functions to decline that affects
- Reasoning and judgment (1)
What is the MIND Diet?
The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is hailed as a perfect diet to improve brain health and reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s (2).
Alone both Mediterranean and DASH diets have been shown to decrease the risk of hypertension, heart attack, and stroke.
In Europe, randomized trials on 522 participants spanning over 6.5 years showed cognitive improvement with the Mediterranean diet (containing extra virgin olive oil or nuts) compared to the low-fat diet (3).
A randomized trial with the DASH diet demonstrated better blood pressure results in patients with high blood pressure (4).
The more important study in 2015 posited that cardiovascular benefits of the DASH and Mediterranean diet could be extended to brain health as well (5).
In this study, the researchers followed 923 individuals over the age of 58 for 4.5 years.
The adherence to DASH, Mediterranean, and MIND diet was associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
High adherence, measured by the MIND diet score resulted in a slower cognitive decline equivalent to 7.5 years of younger age.
How does the MIND diet improve cognition and reduce Alzheimer’s and dementia risk?
Oxidative damage occurs due to oxidative stress which is the imbalance between antioxidants and oxidants.
The shift in favor of oxidants causes oxidative damage.
Oxidative damage is the main reason for many diseases in humans.
The Reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (RONS) causing oxidative damage are considered the culprits in age-related diseases (6).
It is now known that oxidative stress in the brain increases with age in humans (7).
Also, there is evidence that oxidative stress could play a role in Alzheimer’s disease pathology (8).
One other aspect of brain damage is the formation of proteins beta-amyloid plaques.
The accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques is thought to be responsible for the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (9).
Extensive research is done on beta-amyloid in the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
Current studies have focused on oxidative stress and the formation of beta-amyloid in the development of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
The brain lesions in Alzheimer’s disease patients show signs of oxidative stress. It is proposed that increasing antioxidant activity by external sources (foods) can mitigate the lesions in the brain (10,11).
In fact, taking vitamin E supplements which is an antioxidant has been shown to decrease the progression of Alzheimer’s compared to patients who did not take vitamin E supplements (12).
Other studies have demonstrated an association between dietary antioxidants and reduced risk of dementia. Increasing flavonoids was associated with a reduced risk of dementia (13).
Vitamin D and its analogs have the ability to decrease beta-amyloid formation and also promote degradation (18).
Thus, it is safe to assume that the intake of antioxidants prevents or slows down the progression of dementia and alzheimerès disease.
The MIND diet components contain vitamins and antioxidants in large quantities.
Therefore, the MIND diet improves cognition and slows down dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by providing vitamins and antioxidants.
The MIND Diet Foods
The MIND Diet foods are shown to substantially slow down the decline in cognitive abilities.
Based on research groups of foods that are good for the brain and foods that are bad for the brain have been identified (19).
MIND diet defines 10 foods that are healthy for the brain and 5 foods that are bad for brain health.
Thus, it is important to consume these 10 foods more often and reduce the consumption of 5 bad foods.
10 brain healthy foods
1) Green Leafy Vegetables (≥ 6 servings/week)
Add leafy greens into your diet. The healthy green leafy vegetable includes kale, spinach, cabbage, watercress, brussels sprout, broccoli, bok choy, collard greens, asparagus, dandelion greens, swiss chard, and microgreens.
2) All Other Vegetables (≥ 1 serving/day)
Try adding other vegetables to your diet too. Buy local and fresh. The list of vegetable options is too long thus, only more common examples are mentioned here.
These are Beet Greens, Peas, Belle pepper, carrots, turnip, reddish, potato, arugula, butternut squash, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, garlic, leeks, mushrooms, pumpkin, zucchini, and tomato.
3) Nuts (≥ 5 servings/week)
Examples of healthy nuts are Almonds, Pistachios, Walnuts, Cashews, Pecans, Macadamia Nuts, Brazil Nuts, Hazelnuts.
4) Berries (≥ 2 servings/week)
The MIND diet does not recommend fruits but berries are an exception perhaps due to high antioxidant content.
Examples of healthy berries are blueberry, strawberry, blackcurrant, Acai berries, cranberry, Elderberry, Goji berry, and Mulberry.
5) Beans (> 3 servings/week)
Beans are an excellent source of proteins and fiber. The examples include chickpeas, lentils, peas, kidney beans, black beans, and pinto beans
6) Whole grains (>3 servings/day)
Try adding more whole grains to your diet. They contain several minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. This includes eating whole wheat, brown rice, whole oats, whole rye, buckweed, freekeh, quinoa, and whole-grain couscous.
7) Fish (≥ 1 serving/week)
Fish is an integral part of the Mediterranean diet. Fish contains healthy fats and vitamins. The healthy choices of fish are wild salmon, mackerel, trout, cod, sardines, tuna, sea bass, pollack and mahi-mahi, and others.
8) Poultry (≥ 2 servings/week)
Poultry is preferred over red meat. Moderate consumption of chicken, turkey, duck, and quail is recommended.
9) Olive oil (main fat)
Olive oil is the major component of the Mediterranean diet. It is also the primary source of fats in the MIND diet. Cooking and salad preparations should be done with Olive oil.
10) Wine (1 glass/day)
Red wine is considered a suitable option. It contains antioxidants and vitamins that are helpful in decreased inflammation and LDL thus protects the heart (20).
5 Brain Unhealthy foods
1) Red meats (less than 4 servings/week)
Reduce the intake of red meat and products made from red meat.
The examples include hamburger, cheeseburger, beef burritos, hot, ham sandwich, salami, veal roast, bologna, or other deli meat sandwich, beef or lamb, hot dogs/sausages, pork or ham, meatballs or meatloaf, etc
2) Butter and stick margarine (less than 1T servings/week)
Butter and margarine are considered unhealthy foods for brains. They have saturated fatty acids. Margarine is considered a healthy option because it contains fewer saturated fat and no trans fats, however, on the MIND diet, you need to limit consuming margarine too.
3) Cheese (less than 1 serving/week)
Limit the use of cheese as well and do not consume processed cheese.
Examples of cheese are cheddar, mozzarella, cream cheese, parmesan, brie, and goat cheese, and others.
4) Pastries and sweets (less than 5 servings/week)
The examples of pastries and sweets include Biscuit/roll, cannoli, pop tarts, pie, cake, snack cakes/twinkies, candy bars, macaron, danish/sweet rolls/pastry, Strudel, donuts, cookies, pretzels, croissant, brownies, other candy, ice cream, pudding, muffins, milkshakes/frappes, frosties, etc
5) Fried or fast foods (less than 1 serving/week)
Strictly cut back on fried and fast foods. This includes burgers, french fries, onion rings, poutine, fried chicken, chicken wings, chicken nuggets, chicken tenders, hash browns, bacon cheeseburger, mozzarella sticks, etc.
The MIND diet targets dementia and Alzheimer’s disease prevention and improves cognitive function.
The research on the MIND diet shows that adhering to it can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and augment brain function.
Although the studies were randomized more research is needed to fully comprehend the role of the MIND diet.
The MIND diet includes leafy greens, vegetables, berries, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, fish, beans, poultry, and wine.
These components are important sources of antioxidants and vitamins that reduce beta-amyloid plaque formation and also minimize oxidative stress.
The MIND diet also promotes less consumption of Red meat, butter, cheese, pastries, and fried foods.
It is a simple and easy diet to follow and there are a ton of food choices available.