New Research On How The MIND Diet Correlates To Dementia Risk
The link between diet and dementia risk is impossible to deny. Dozens of studies have established a connection between the two, and health experts are now starting to refer to Alzheimer's disease, a type of dementia, as "Type 3" diabetes.
There's no doubt about it: Certain foods raise your risk of dementia. But if some foods increase your risk of dementia, it only makes sense that some would do the opposite, right? Right, according to one new study1.
Diet and dementia: What's the link?
In recent years, evidence has been mounting that lifestyle factors, including nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress, greatly affect dementia risk. When it comes to nutrition, experts claim that ultra-processed foods—think hot dogs, French fries, chips, sodas, cakes, and ice cream—can set you up for cognitive decline. And now, a new study shows us a way of eating that actually decreases dementia risk.
Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association1, this study evaluated data from over 8,000 middle-aged and older men and women from 11 cohort studies. All of the participants began the study period without dementia. Researchers used surveys to collect nutritional data from the participants, who were each given a score from 0 to 15 based on how closely they followed a way of eating defined as the Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay2, or MIND diet. The higher the score, the more closely their diet aligned with the MIND diet. The average score among participants was 8.3 out of 15.
At the end of the study, the participants were screened for dementia. Out of more than 8,000 participants, about 775 developed dementia. The results showed that the more closely a participant followed the MIND diet, the less likely they were to develop dementia during the study period. In fact, participants with the highest scores were 17% less likely to develop dementia compared with participants with the lowest scores.
The MIND diet
The Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay is a bit of a mouthful, but it's named that for a good reason. The diet was first introduced in a series of papers by the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and Martha Clare Morris, Ph.D., at Rush University Medical Center. They showed that both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet had already demonstrated the ability to help prevent dementia. The researchers took this information and developed a protocol that combined both diets, which wasn't too difficult since they both feature mostly plant-based foods and little to no processed foods, saturated fats, or red meat.
So what does a MIND diet look like? The protocol breaks down like this:
- At least 3 servings per day of whole grains
- At least 1 serving per day of vegetables (other than green leafy ones)
- More than 6 servings per week of green leafy vegetables
- At least 5 servings per week of nuts
- At least 4 meals per week of beans
- At least 2 servings per week of berries
- At least 2 meals per week of poultry
- At least 1 meal per week of fish
- Using olive oil for cooking
It also limits certain items, including pastries and sweets (less than 5 servings per week), red meat (less than 4 servings per week), cheese and fried food (less than 1 serving per week), and butter and margarine (less than 1 tablespoon per day).
3 mind-friendly habits to adopt now
Dementia is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, so it behooves us all to adopt mind-friendly habits. On top of adjusting our diet to be more MIND-friendly, here are three research-backed habits to protect your brain health long term.
Don't stay sedentary: When it comes to cognitive decline and dementia, staying active is everything. One meta-analysis of existing research showed that regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia by 30%. It doesn't matter how you do it; it just matters that you do it. From CrossFit to gardening to pickleball, active is active!
Consume memory-supporting nutrients: As is the case with inflammation or mood health, certain nutrients play a special role in memory and cognition. These are often referred to as nootropics and include nutrients like omega-3s, curcumin, and ginseng. Not sure where to start? Try one of these 16 memory-supporting supplements that offer a concentrated amount of brain-healthy nutrients to help keep your mind sharp.
Stay socially engaged: Many people become more isolated as they age, but research tells us that trying to stay engaged socially can help us fend off dementia. One study showed that social isolation was associated with a 50% higher risk3 of dementia.
Dementia is one of the biggest health threats. Fortunately, one study shows that adhering to a plant and grain-rich diet may help reduce your risk of dementia. Pair it with plenty of exercise, social engagement, and memory-supporting nutrients to keep your mind sharp and resilient as you age.
Gretchen Lidicker is an mbg health contributor, content strategist, and the author of CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Hemp-Derived Health and Wellness and Magnesium Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Epsom Salts, Magnesium Oil, and Nature's Relaxation Mineral. She holds a B.S. in biology and earned her master’s degree in physiology with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University.