What To Eat For A Healthy Brain
In March, I begin a new role as a Nutrition Educator for the New York City Department for the Aging. I will have the opportunity to give nutrition education lessons (sometimes even in Spanish) at various senior centers throughout New York City.
My interest in cognitive health and nutrition was sparked by an assignment in my community nutrition education class called “Fact Vs. Fiction.” We were required to pick either a fad diet or dietary recommendation, summarize the current literature and decide whether we would recommend this diet to a future client. All in five minutes! It was great practice for conference presentations. I chose to research the MIND Diet; a new healthy eating plan that focuses on preventing Alzheimer’s Disease and slowing cognitive decline in older adults.
MIND Diet: Is it Fact or Fiction?
Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive degenerative brain disorder that affects approximately 48 million people worldwide. People with Alzheimer’s suffer from memory loss, disorientation, lack of recognition of loved ones and eventual death. In the brain of Alzheimer’s sufferers, beta-amyloid and tau proteins clump together preventing nutrients from reaching neurons, thereby causing brain cell death. Over time, brain cell death causes severe tissue shrinkage. Currently, there is no cure for the disease and the medical community is interested in developing prevention strategies.
The MIND Diet
Based on evidence that certain foods in the heart healthy Mediterranean Diet and the hypertension management DASH Diet protect against cognitive decline, researchers (primarily Martha Clare Morris of Rush University Medical Center) have developed the MIND Diet (Mediterranean-DASH diet intervention for neurodegenerative delay). The diet emphasizes whole grains, green leafy vegetables, vegetables in general, berries, nuts, beans, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine and discourages intake of red meat, butter and margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets and fried foods.
There has been limited research conducted on the MIND Diet. In two longitudinal, cohort studies researchers found that even moderate adherence to the MIND Diet slowed cognitive decline with age by following over 1000 people for 5-9 years. The limitations of the studies include measurement bias, lack of generalizability and inability to establish causality.
I would recommend this diet to someone who is generally interested in boosting their brain health because the benefits of consuming these foods outweigh the risks. Considering the current state of research on the topic; it would be irresponsible to recommend this diet to someone that is genetically at risk for Alzheimer’s disease until replication of cohort studies were completed to gauge generalizability, randomized clinical trials were conducted to establish causality and animal studies were done to better understand the physiology behind the cognitive protective benefits of the MIND Diet.
- Marcason W. What are the components to the MIND diet? J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015;115(10):1744.
- Morris MC. Nutrition and risk of dementia: Overview and methodological issues. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2016;1367(1):31-37.
- Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, et al. MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimers Dement. 2015;11(9):1015-1022.
- Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2015;11(9):1007-1014.
- Pelletier A, Barul C, Feart C, et al. Mediterranean diet and preserved brain structural connectivity in older subjects. Alzheimers Dement. 2015;11(9):1023-1031.
- Wengreen H, Munger RG, Cutler A, et al. Prospective study of dietary approaches to stop hypertension- and mediterranean-style dietary patterns and age-related cognitive change: The cache county study on memory, health and aging. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;98(5):1263-1271.
- What is Alzheimer’s? Alzheimer’s Association Website. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp. Accessed: October 28, 2016.