Dear Savvy Senior,
I’ve heard that there’s a new diet that can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. What can you tell me about this? My 80-year-old mother has Alzheimer’s and I want to do everything I can to protect myself.
It’s true! Research has found that a new diet plan – called the MIND diet – can have a profound impact on your brain health as you age, and can even lower your odds of getting Alzheimer’s disease.
The MIND diet takes two proven diets – the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet and the blood-pressure lowering DASH diet – and zeroes in on the foods in each that specifically affect brain health.
The MIND diet, which stands for “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay,” was developed by Martha Clare Morris, a nutritional epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Center, through a study funded by the National Institutes on Aging.
The study followed the diets of nearly 1,000 elderly adults, who filled out food questionnaires and underwent repeated neurological testing for an average of 4.5 years.
It found participants whose diets most closely followed the MIND recommendations had brains that functioned as if they were 7.5 years younger, and it lowered their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53 percent. And even those who didn’t stick to the diet perfectly, but followed it moderately well reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s by 35 percent.
The MIND menu
The MIND diet has 15 dietary components. The emphasis is on eating from 10 brain-healthy food groups, and limiting foods from five unhealthy groups. Here’s a rundown of the healthy foods you should work into your diet:
Green leafy vegetables (like spinach and salad greens): Eat at least one serving per day.
Other vegetables: At least one other vegetable a day.
Whole grains: Three or more servings a day.
Nuts: Five one ounce servings a week.
Beans: At least three servings a week.
Berries: Two or more servings a week.
Fish: Once a week.
Poultry (not fried): Two times a week.
Olive oil: Use it as your primary cooking oil.
Wine: One glass a day.
And the five unhealthy food groups you should limit include
Red meat: Eat fewer than four servings a week.
Butter and margarine: Less than a tablespoon daily.
Cheese: Less than one serving a week.
Pastries and sweets: Less than five servings a week.
Fried or fast food: Less than one serving a week.
One of the best things about the MIND diet is that it’s easier to follow than most other diets and you don’t have to stick to it perfectly to gain the benefits, which makes it more likely you’ll follow it for a long time. And the longer you eat the MIND way, the lower the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.
Another advantage is that the MIND diet can help you lose some weight, too, if you keep your portions in check and are careful about how the food is prepared.
It’s also important to understand that even though diet plays a big role, it’s only one aspect of Alzheimer’s disease. So get regular exercise, if you smoke, quit, and learn how to manage your stress to lower your risk even more.
Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.