In the search for lifestyle strategies that slow cognitive decline associated with aging, medical researchers have been investigating the protective effects that certain dietary regimens could have on the brain. A study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia examined whether one diet in particular, the Mediterranean-DASH diet intervention for neurodegenerative delay (MIND), is effective at slowing down cognitive decline in older adults. This new diet was a modified version of both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Systolic Hypertension), which showed protective effects against cognitive decline in two previous randomized clinical trials. The MIND diet incorporates key elements of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, such as a strong emphasis on plant-based foods and consumptive limits on foods that are high in saturated fats and animal-based. It additionally places a unique emphasis on the specific intake of green leafy vegetables and berries, both of which have been shown to be highly neuroprotective based on the findings of prior studies.
The MIND diet’s unique emphasis on green leafy vegetables and berries is based on their strong documented neuroprotective properties. A number of previous studies found that higher intake of green leafy vegetables was associated with slower rates of cognitive decline (Morris et al., 2006). The nutrients in green leafy vegetables, including vitamin E, folate, flavonoids and carotenoids have been linked with a lower risk of dementia and cognitive decline (Morris, 2012). Berries are also highly neuroprotective due to their high levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Previous studies have shown their effects on slowing cognitive decline and improving memory.
The MIND Diet Study utilized a diet score based on certain neuroprotective foods and compared the score with cognitive changes in a sample group of 960 participants drawn from a separate ongoing study called the Memory and Aging Project (MAP). All of the study participants were given 21 cognitive tests on a yearly basis to measure cognitive changes resulting from the MIND diet. Of these 21 tests, 19 analyzed performance levels in the cognitive domains of episodic memory, semantic memory, working memory, perceptual speed, and visuospatial ability (Wilson et al., 2006). A total score of all 19 cognitive tests was then computed for each participant.
The MIND diet score was calculated according to how frequently participants consumed certain groups of foods. These included 10 groups that were brain healthy (green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, berries, whole grains, nuts, beans, poultry, seafood, wine, olive oil) and 5 groups that were unhealthy (cheese, butter and stick margarine, red meats, pastries and sweets, and fried/fast food). Each of the 10 healthy food groups had a maximum score of 1 point for higher frequency of consumption, while up to 1 point was given for lower consumptive frequency for each of the 5 unhealthy food groups. A total of 15 points were possible, which was considered the best score (Morris et. al, 2015).
In our next blog article covering this study, read about how effective the MIND diet may be at slowing cognitive decline in the aging brain.
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Morris MC, Evans DA, Tangney CC, Bienias JL, Wilson RS. Associations of vegetable and fruit consumption with age-related cognitive change. Neurology 2006;67:1370-1376.
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Morris, M. C., Tangney, C. C., Wang, Y., Sacks, F. M., Barnes, L. L., Bennett, D. A., & Aggarwal, N. T. (2015). MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 11(9), 1015-1022. doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2015.04.011
Wilson RS, Arnold SE, Tang Y, Bennett DA. Odor identification and decline in different cognitive domains in old age. Neuroepidemiology 2006;26:61-67.