The MIND diet for better brain healthDec 12, 2021
First of all thank-you to everyone who answered my Healthy Longevity survey, letting me know what issues are concerning you as you age. And the #1 pick, listed by 80% of respondents? Cognitive Decline and other Brain Issues. I’m not surprised, as it is a topic of conversation among many of us, and is a concern to me as well. The good news is that because of that I am planning to continue researching and writing about related issues, and I also have something “cooking” for the New Year that will help all of us take back some of our power when it comes to this potentially debilitating condition.
Featured in today’s article is a research study called the Rush Memory and Aging Project (MAP), out of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois.
So if you aim to continue to be sharp and witty, and to have a good memory years and decades from now, this study is for you!
Imagine there was a diet that can not only reduce your risk of getting dementia (like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases), but it can even slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease after it starts in the brain. A recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease has found just this. And you probably won’t be surprised what kinds of foods it recommends.
The diet is called the MIND diet. The name and protocol of the “MIND” is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. People who follow this diet—even moderately—over the years are better able to understand, think, solve problems, make decisions, and remember things. In other words, the MIND diet is said to contribute to “cognitive resilience.”
There have been several studies done on the ability of the MIND diet (Mediterranean + DASH diets) to reduce the risk for dementias like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. This particular study looked at 569 older adults with no symptoms of Alzheimer’s and followed them from 1997 to see what they ate and whether they eventually developed signs of Alzheimer’s. Every year participants underwent a clinical evaluation and cognitive tests. Beginning in 2004, researchers also added an annual questionnaire asking how often participants ate certain foods. They found that the closer someone’s diet was to the MIND diet, the less chance they had of developing Alzheimer’s.
What is the MIND diet?
The MIND diet consists of 10 "brain-healthy” food groups and 5 “not-so-brain-healthy” food groups. The brain-healthy food groups include:
- whole grains (at least 3 servings per day)
- a green leafy vegetable (at least 6-7 servings per week)
- other vegetables (at least 1 serving per day)
- nuts (5-7 servings per week)
- beans (3-4 servings per week)
- berries (2 servings per week)
- poultry (2 servings per week)
- seafood (1 serving per week)
- olive oil (fat of choice)
- wine (1 glass per day, if you drink alcohol)
The five not-so-brain-healthy food groups include recommendations to limit:
- butter and margarine (less than 1.5-3 teaspoons per day)
- red meat (less than 4 servings per week)
- whole fat cheese (less than 1 serving per week)
- pastries and sweets (less than 1 serving per week)
- fried or fast food (less than 1 serving per week)
In this study, researchers found that the more closely participants’ diets aligned with the MIND diet, the better their cognition as they got older. Simply put, this diet appears to help protect the brain.
Just stop for a moment and consider how closely your eating habits follow these do’s and don’ts. Try to do this without judgement. Instead think of it as collecting data which you will then use to make decisions about what you eat.
Yes, we already knew that a healthy and nutrient-dense diet is good for your brain (and the rest of your body). Here’s what was really interesting about this study: some of the participants who ate a brain-healthy diet and did not show signs of Alzheimer’s disease were later found to have the classic protein plaques and tangles in their brains that would have diagnosed them with Alzheimer’s disease. While only one-third of participants were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s during their annual tests, two-thirds of them ended up having the protein plaques and tangles (identified through autopsy) that are seen in people with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. This means that the MIND diet seems to help protect some people with physical signs of Alzheimer’s disease in their brains from experiencing clinical symptoms in their lives. So, some of them had Alzheimer’s protein plaques and tangles in their brains, but this had no impact on their functions and they didn’t show signs of Alzheimer’s.
According to the researchers, the bottom line of this study is that the “MIND diet is associated with better cognitive functioning independently of common brain pathology, suggesting that the MIND diet may contribute to cognitive resilience in the elderly.”
Note that all studies have limitations. For this one, the researchers specifically looked at older people and followed them for years, until they died. They did not require anyone to change their diets or any other aspect of their lifestyle, so that makes this an observational study (no experiment or intervention was done, only asked people to describe their lives and take tests without implementing any lifestyle changes). Therefore, we can’t say that the MIND diet “prevents” Alzheimer’s, just that it appears to reduce risk or it’s associated with a lower risk (in other words: correlation does not equal causation). Nevertheless, it’s a promising study, and one we can rely on to point us in the right direction.
Why is the MIND diet so good for the brain? One reason is that it is rich in nutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds such as beta-carotene, folate (vitamin B9), vitamin E, and flavonoids.
In addition to eating a nutrient-rich diet such as the MIND diet, your brain and body benefit when you also stay active for 150 minutes per week and participate in cognitive activities to challenge your brain, like reading books, learning a new language, and doing puzzles. Nutrition, physical activity, and cognitive activities all contribute to cognitive resilience.
How to eat more “brain-healthy” foods:
- Start your day with oatmeal or quinoa – or even leftovers from last night’s dinner!
- Swap out white or processed grains for whole grains (e.g., brown or wild rice, whole wheat bread, etc.)
- Enjoy a daily salad with green leafy vegetables, plus a few other vegetables and nuts or seeds. And make sure to choose healthy fats as a part of your dressing. See the recipes below!
- Snack on some nuts or berries when you’re hungry
- Try a protein-packed, meatless meal every other day using legumes like chickpeas or fermented tempeh
- Ditch your margarine or processed seed oils like canola oil for olive oil or other healthy fats
Don’t have my handout for Healthy Fats? It’s part of the Resilience Bundle - click here to complete the opt-in form and I will send it to you!
And did I mention that I’m “cooking” up something for the New Year?
Let’s face it, as we age we really have only 2 choices:
- Buy into the current “model” that says we will inevitably decline at an ever increasing rate until we’ve lost independence, mobility, energy, our minds, and so on – everything that makes us who we are!
- Or Refuse to accept that choice #1 is inevitable, and instead do everything we possibly can to avoid that scenario!
No surprises, I choose #2 – are you with me?
Remember those 4 general contributors to declining health?
- Deficiencies in the required nutrients that are the building blocks (protein, fat, carbohydrates, plus micronutrients) of all the tissues in the body: cells, organs, chemical messengers (hormones, neurotransmitters), and other processes that carry out the roles of the various organs and the body as a whole.
- Too many toxins, harmful substances (processed food, food additives, environmental toxins etc.) seemingly everywhere these days.
- A Sedentary Lifestyle – as the body’s systems are not doing what they were designed to do, which is to be active for long hours, every day.
- Overload of Stress - caused by all of the above plus the emotional stress of 21st century life -- even more so in the past couple of years.
I’ve written about many ways to counteract each of these, and I’m now developing a Road Map that you can execute to address each of these concerns. Stay tuned!
Want to get on the Waitlist? Click here and let me know!
Recipes: Broccoli Salad with Tahini Dressing, a favourite of mine!
Serves 2 - 3
- 4 cups broccoli (chopped into florets)
- 2 Tbsp red onion (finely sliced)
- 2 Tbsp sun dried tomatoes (finely sliced)
- 2 Tbsp capers
- 1 Tbsp hemp hearts
- 2 Tbsp tahini
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp coconut aminos
- 1/8 tsp sea salt (or to taste)
- Bring a large pot of water, with a steamer basket, to a boil. Steam broccoli for 3 - 4 minutes, or just until slightly tender. Strain and run under cold water. OR you may also choose to use broccoli raw!
- Add the broccoli, red onion, sun-dried tomatoes and capers to a large salad bowl and mix well.
- In a small jar or small blender, add the tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt and water. Shake or combine vigourously until well combined. Pour over the salad and toss well.
- Sprinkle hemp hearts over top of the salad and serve. Enjoy!
- Add additional toppings if desired – nuts, seeds, protein of choice
- Store leftovers in the fridge – will last a few days!
- Tahini Dressing (larger batch): ¼ c. tahini, ¼ c. olive oil, 2 Tbsp lemon juice, 2 Tbsp coconut aminos, 2 tsp garlic salt, 2 tsp sea salt. Stir vigourously in a 2 cup wide-mouth mason jar to combine. Add water as needed.
Dhana, K., James, B. D., Agarwal, P., Aggarwal, N. T., Cherian, L. J., Leurgans, S. E., Barnes, L. L., Bennett, D. A., & Schneider, J. A. (2021). MIND Diet, Common Brain Pathologies, and Cognition in Community-Dwelling Older Adults. Journal of Alzheimer's disease : JAD, 83(2), 683–692. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8480203/
Rush University Medical Center. (2021, September 21). MIND diet linked to better cognitive performance: Study finds diet may contribute to cognitive resilience in the elderly. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 11, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/09/210921172721.htm
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