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The MIND Diet – How Following a Mediterranean Diet Can Reduce Dementia Risk

A diet that can help to slow cognitive decline is showing good potential in optimising cognitive function as we age.

Sophie Medlin, dietitian, and Head of National Research in the UK focuses on the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet. This diet can help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and can also help to improve the cognition of people with dementia and other Neurodegenerative conditions.

In a separate study of 960 participants over almost 5 years, by Rush University, the MIND diet showed that it can substantially slow cognitive decline with age. In this study, the difference between the control and the diet group showed a difference in cognition, equivalent to being 7.5 years younger in age.

How does this diet achieve such outstanding results? With a combination of two diets that are already widely researched and known.

The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. It focuses on eating combinations of

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits (especially Berries)
  • Fish
  • A little meat
  • Red wine
  • As well as reducing all processed foods as much as possible.

 

The MIND Diet discourages

  • Red meat: more than four servings a week
  • Butter and stick margarine: more than a tablespoon daily
  • Cheese: more than one serving a week
  • Pastries and sweets: more than five servings a week
  • Fried or fast food: more than one serving a week

 

The evidence

Doctors have been advising us for years that our diets can affect our health and bodies. Now there’s growing evidence that the same is true for your brain. Even those who didn’t stick to the MIND diet perfectly but followed it “moderately well” reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s by about a third.

Diet appears to be just one of “many factors that play into who gets the disease,” said nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, Ph.D., the lead author of the MIND diet study.

Genetics and other factors like smoking, exercise, and education also play a role. But the MIND diet helped slow the rate of cognitive decline and protect against Alzheimer’s regardless of other risk factors.

In Australia, further research has involved following the diets and lifestyles of a large cohort of elderly people over more than a decade and has noted similar results to the reports above. The study, published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, looked at more than 900 people between the ages of 58 and 98 who filled out food questionnaires and underwent repeated neurological testing. It found participants whose diets most closely followed the MIND recommendations had a level of cognitive function the equivalent of a person 7.5 years younger. The MIND diet breaks its recommendations down into 10 “brain-healthy food groups” a person should eat and five “unhealthy food groups” to avoid.

Since then, numerous studies have confirmed the above findings but with less of an emphasis on Alzheimer’s and more on the generic term “dementia” which, like cancer, covers a whole range of disorders – in this case primarily affecting the mind.

What are the benefits of the MIND diet?

As with any diet, there are advantages and disadvantages.

Pros:

  • Enjoy good long-term mind and brain health
  • Reduction in risk of stroke
  • Reduction in risk of Alzheimer’s
  • Reduction in risk of heart disease and cancers.
  • There’s a large variety of food you can eat.

 

Cons:

  • Very restrictive on sweet, salty, fatty foods which can bring enjoyment and have personal and cultural significance.

 

This diet can help to improve your risk factors for dementia as well as to help your brain function in an optimal way if you already have a diagnosis of dementia.

As always – focusing on WHY you are changing your diet and focusing on foods you CAN have will help to make the eating plan more sustainable.

The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional cuisine of people who live in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, especially Italy, Greece, and Spain.

Though Mediterranean diets vary from country to country, they share common features. For instance, they all emphasize fresh, local, minimally processed foods.

While there isn’t just one type of Mediterranean diet, most include large amounts of fresh seafood, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and olive oil. You can easily modify a typical Mediterranean diet to make it low-carb.

The DASH diet is simple:

  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods
  • Cut back on foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fats
  • Eat more whole-grain foods, fish, poultry, and nuts

 

The combination of these two diets and the associated research shows a significant reduction in risk factors for heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative conditions and can also help your brain to function well if you have already been diagnosed.

A delicious recipe in line with the MIND diet;

 

Salmon and Spinach with Tartare Cream

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp sunflower or vegetable oil
  • 2 skinless salmon fillets
  • 250g bag spinach
  • 2 tbsp reduced-fat crème fraîche
  • juice ½ lemon
  • 1 tsp caper, drained
  • 2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • lemon wedges, to serve

Method

  • STEP 1
  • Heat the oil in a pan, season the salmon on both sides, then fry for 4 mins on each side until golden and the flesh flakes easily. Leave to rest on a plate while you cook the spinach.
  • STEP 2
  • Tip the leaves into the hot pan, season well, then cover and leave to wilt for 1 min, stirring once or twice. Spoon the spinach onto plates, then top with the salmon. Gently heat the crème fraîche in the pan with a squeeze of the lemon juice, the capers, and parsley, then season to taste. Be careful not to let it boil. Spoon the sauce over the fish, then serve with lemon wedges.

 

To find out more about the MIND diet click here

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