Can Changing Your Diet Sharpen Your Mind?

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We all know the food choices we make impact our weight and energy levels, but new research shows that smart food choices can have the added benefit of keeping your mind sharp as you age.

A paper published online in March in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association states that a diet, known by the acronym MIND, could significantly lower a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, PhD, and colleagues developed the “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay” (MIND) diet. The study shows that the MIND diet lowered the risk of AD by as much as 53% in participants who adhered to the diet rigorously, and by about 35% in those who followed it moderately well.  That’s a pretty amazing decline!

If you’re cringing at the thought of yet another diet to follow, you’ll be pleased to hear that researchers found the plan to offer health benefits even if the diet is not strictly followed. “One of the more exciting things about this is that people who adhered even moderately to the MIND diet had a reduction in their risk for AD,” said Morris. “I think that will motivate people.”

The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, both of which have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, like hypertension, heart attack, and stroke.

The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 “brain-healthy food groups” — green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, nuts, berries, beans, olive oil, and wine — and five unhealthy groups that comprise red meats, cheese, pastries and sweets, butter and stick margarine, and fried or fast food. People following the MIND diet will eat at least three servings of whole grains, a salad, and one other vegetable every day — along with a glass of wine. You’re allowed snacks most days on nuts, beans every other day or so, poultry and berries at least twice a week, and fish at least once a week. However, you must limit intake of the designated unhealthy foods, especially butter, cheese, and fried or fast food.

While research into the effects of the MIND diet is certainly exciting, it’s not a magic cure-all. People who eat this diet consistently over a period of many years experience the best benefits, so it’s best looked at as a lasting lifestyle change as opposed to yet another “fad” diet option.

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