Several factors influence who will eventually develop this devastating disease, say researchers. One of them may be our diet, according to a recent study called the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, or MIND. As the name suggests, this research found that an eating style based on the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets — known for their ability to reduce blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke — could also lower the risk for developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
Contrary to the name, however, this was not a true intervention trial. Rather, researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago looked at what seniors were already eating and scored them according to a list of “brain healthy” food groups. People who reported eating more of these foods and fewer unhealthy ones were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, they found.
Brain healthy foods identified in the MIND study include vegetables (green leafy veggies in particular), nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. Unhealthy foods were excess amounts of fried foods, red meat, butter, cheese, sweets and pastries.
Interesting that berries were the only fruit specifically named on their brain healthy list. “Blueberries are one of the more potent foods in terms of protecting the brain,” states Martha Morris, Ph.D., a researcher who helped develop the MIND diet. Strawberries are also rich in compounds that can help protect brain function.
What might this eating pattern look like? Each day includes at least three servings of a whole grain food, a mixed green salad, another vegetable and a glass of wine. Fish, chicken or turkey are eaten a few times a week; beef less often. Beans are on the menu every other day or so. Nuts and berries are frequent snacks. Cheese, fried and fast foods are eaten no more than once a week. Butter is limited to less than a tablespoon a day. Pastries and sweets are reserved for special occasions.
While more studies are in order, these scientists recognize that we tend to be healthier the longer we practice health-related habits. It’s what we eat consistently over time that probably gives us the best protection, they conclude. I’ll try to remember that.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.