Alzheimer’s is one of many forms of dementia, and scientists are beginning to understand that our lifestyle has a lot to do with our risk of developing this and other brain diseases. Since November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, it’s a good time to talk about how your diet might affect your risk.
In 2015, a group of researchers published their findings about a dietary plan they called the MIND diet, which combined aspects of the Mediterranean diet with the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.
Both diets already have been shown to preserve cognitive function.
The researchers followed a group of 1,000 seniors for nine years, evaluating their diets and administering cognitive assessments. At the end of the study, they identified foods that had either a protective effect or a negative effect on brain health.
The participants with the highest diet scores (meaning they consumed more of the brain-healthy foods and fewer of the less healthy foods) had a significantly lower rate of decline in their cognitive function than did those with the lowest scores.
The MIND diet pattern also showed greater effects on preserving brain function than either the Mediterranean or DASH diet did independently.
The MIND diet recommends specific “brain-healthy” foods to include and unhealthy food items to limit. The healthy items include:
- Three or more servings a day of whole grains
- One or more servings a day of vegetables (other than green leafy)
- Six or more servings a week of green leafy vegetables
- Five or more servings a week of nuts
- Four or more meals a week of beans
- Two or more servings a week of berries
- Two or more meals a week of poultry
- One or more meals a week of fish
- If added fat is used (it’s optional), olive oil is recommended.
Unhealthy items tend to be those higher in saturated and trans-fat. The recommendations for these are:
- Less than five servings a week of pastries and sweets
- Less than four servings a week of red meat (including beef, pork, lamb and products made from these meats)
- Less than one serving a week of cheese and fried foods
- Less than one tablespoon a day of butter or stick margarine
What you eat is only one of the lifestyle factors that can affect the general health of your brain. To further protect brain health, it is important to get regular physical activity, keep your brain engaged and active (reading, learning a new skill, doing puzzles, etc.), stay connected to friends and family, get enough sleep, and avoid excessive alcohol use.
For more information about Alzheimer’s and dementia, visit alz.org.
- Sherry DeWalt is the healthy lifestyles coordinator for the CGH Health Foundation in Sterling.