New Diet Slows the Brain’s Aging

What you eat may do more than reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. New research suggests that your diet could also slow your brain’s aging and keep you sharper as you get older.

The idea that what you eat can influence cognitive health isn’t new – brain experts have been touting the brain benefits of the same diet that’s recommended for the heart for a while – but the newly designed MIND diet may work even better.

Developed at Rush University Medical Center by Martha Clare Morris, PhD, an epidemiologist there, the MIND diet combines the best of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. Both of these have long been recommended to slash the risks of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke, and the research suggests that the new hybrid may go a long way guard brain health, as well.

Study participants who closely followed the MIND diet – all residents of retirement communities and senior public housing units in the Chicago area – showed much less mental decline over the years than those who didn’t.

What is the MIND Diet?

The MIND diet is fairly simple. It’s based on two lists – basically, eat these and avoid these.

The “eat these” list includes 10 healthy food groups for the brain:

  • Green, leafy vegetables
  • Other vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Blueberries
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Olive oil
  • Wine

On the unhealthy for the brain list?

  • Red meats
  • Butter and stick margarine
  • Pastries and other sweets
  • Fried or fast foods
  • Cheese

How much of the brain-healthy foods do you need?

Eat at least three servings of whole grains daily, experts say. You also need a salad or other serving of green leaves plus another vegetable daily. And you should drink a daily glass of wine.

You can snack most days on nuts. You should have beans – like black, kidney or pinto – every other day. Eat poultry twice a week or more, and fish at least once weekly. When you eat fruit, think berries, especially blueberries, which you should try to eat at least twice weekly. “Blueberries are one of the more potent foods in terms of protecting the brain,” Morris says.

You don’t have to completely give up the foods on the unhealthy list, but experts say that it’s good to seriously limit them. For instance, have less than a tablespoon of butter a day, and eat less than a serving a week of cheese and fried food or fast food.

How MIND Measures Up

In her research, Morris has found that people who follow the MIND diet slow their cognitive decline as they age. She reported the results in the June 15 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia, which is published by the Alzheimer’s Association. The same team reported positive findings for the diet’s role in preventing Alzheimer’s in March.

Morris followed 960 men and women with an average age of around 81 for almost five years. Those who followed the diet more closely, compared to those who followed it least closely, had a cognitive decline that was the equivalent of being seven and a half years younger.

In the study published earlier this year, Morris found that those who followed the diet zealously slashed their risk of Alzheimer’s by 53 percent; those who followed it fairly well reduced their risk by about 35 percent.

Researchers believe that people who start the diet at a younger age could experience even greater benefits, though more research is needed.

And in case you were wondering, MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.

Here’s to blueberries and kale – and that glass of wine!

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