The MIND diet: Berry good for brain health in later years

The MIND diet is based on Mediterranean eating, and proponents claim it can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, writes Margaret Jennings

IT’S cleverly called the MIND diet — and benefits our grey matter. Now new research carried out in Chicago reveals that older participants who only partially adhered to it, reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s by 35%, while those who stuck to it longer reduced the risk by 53% — a bold claim to make.

Spelled out in full it’s a mouthful — the Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND), but its origin is based on a combination of aspects of the much-referenced Mediterranean diet, and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, both of which have shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Created by researchers at Rush University in Chicago, the MIND diet is broken down into 10 ‘brain healthy’ food groups we should eat and five ‘unhealthy food groups’ we should avoid.

The ten brain-healthy foodgroups are: nuts, berries, beans, green leafy vegetables, other fresh vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine.

The five unhealthy foodgroups are: hard cheese, butter and stick margarine; pastries and sweets; red meats; fried or fast-food.

Unlike the heart-healthy Mediterranean and Dash diets, in which consumption of all fruits is recommended, the MIND diet puts particular emphasis on berries, especially blueberries and strawberries, which are high in antioxidants.

In this study the researchers analysed the food intake of 923 participants between the ages of 58 and 98 and scored them according to how closely their food intake matched with the MIND diet, the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet. The incidence of Alzheimer’s was assessed over an average follow-up period of four-and-a-half years, and results showed that those who closely followed any of the diets reduced their risk of the disease. However, for those who just partially adhered to the MIND diet, there were also benefits.

Irish dietician Paula Mee says while it’s acknowledged that diet is only one of the factors that influence who gets Alzheimer’s, research shows that people who have the disease have lower levels of key nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, B-vitamins, and vitamins C and E, when compared with age-matched healthy individuals.

“Patients may also have increased requirements for certain nutrients like selenium,” she says. “We don’t have the answers yet, though, and so it’s best to eat the MIND diet anyway, which is nutrient-rich and will provide a good intake of essential fats, vitamins and minerals.”

Mee outlines the following foods and the benefits they give us, as we age:

Salmon — omega 3 and selenium; brazil nuts — selenium; walnuts — omega 3; nuts and seeds in general — many B vitamins, vitamin E and phytoestrogens; olive oil — Omega 3, vitamin E; green veg — folate and other B vitamins, vitamin C; red peppers and tomatoes — lycopene and other antioxidnants; berries — antioxidant vitamins; garlic, leeks, onions and spring onions — phytoestrogens or plant hormones; pulses — isoflavones, lignans, coumestans.

The DASH diet, an eating plan based on studies supported by the National Institutes of Health, was the first shown to reduce high blood pressure. It encourages us to reduce sodium in our diet. But another reason the DASH style eating plans work, says Mee, is that it’s rich in potassium, a mineral known to lower blood pressure.

“Potassium is found in many fruits and vegetables, including bananas, melons, and avocados and reducing salt intake enhances the positive effects of this eating pattern.”

Having a healthy blood pressure as we age can help reduce the risk of stroke and in keeping the brain healthy, may well also contribute towards reducing cognitive decline.

DASH style diets are eating plans that are rich in fruits and vegetables, moderate in low-fat dairy foods, and low in salt and sugar, explains Mee.

“These diets also include grains, especially whole grains; lean fresh meats, fish, and poultry; and nuts and beans. The traditional Mediterranean diet of the 1960s was abundant in minimally processed plant foods such as grains, beans, nuts, dates, vegetables, and fruit. People in this region ate dairy in moderation and drank a little wine with meals. In coastal regions, fish was a staple while red meat was consumed only occasionally. Olive oil was liberally used. Dessert was typically fruit. When you put them together you come up with a list of 10 foods to include in a healthy diet, so I would agree with their top list of foods in the MIND diet,” says the dietician.

While genetics and factors like smoking and exercise can also play a role in Alzheimer’s, researchers who lauded the MIND diet claim it helped slow the rate of cognitive decline regardless of those influences.

Whatever about the brain claims, it’s hard to see a downside to filling our plates with fresh food and avoiding the unhealthy stuff — in other words, MIND yourself!

Workouts work

The MIND diet: Berry good for brain health in later years

It may seem obvious, but a new study carried out on post-menopausal women claims that the more they exercised over a year, the more body fat they shed.

While it’s no news that if you work out and eat well you can maintain a healthy weight, no matter what your age, Canadian researchers say that the more heart-thumping exercise the women fitted into their week, the more it influenced a drop in their body max index and general weight

The post-menopausal women who managed five hours of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise weekly, raising their heartbeat, lost more body fat and BMI than those who did the same for half that time.

Researchers measured each woman’s body before and after the year’s worth of exercises, using X-rays and CT scans.


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