If you want to protect your brain, better load up on the blueberries and green leafy vegetables.
A new study published online in March in Alzheimer’s Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association found that people who closely followed a brain-friendly diet were 53 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Even people who only followed the diet moderately well saw their risk lowered by about 35 percent.
The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, which have been found to cut the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack.
Like those two food plans, the MIND diet is big on natural plant-based foods and limits red meat and processed foods. Unlike those two diets, it especially calls out berries and green leafy vegetables. It does not require high levels of fruit, dairy, potatoes or fish, which makes it less stringent than the other diets.
The MIND diet emphasizes 10 brain-friendly food groups: green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, whole grains, beans, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. Blueberries and strawberries were called out as especially powerful in protecting the brain. It also identifies five unhealthful food categories: red meats, fried and fast foods, butter and stick margarine, cheese and pastries and sweets.
In the study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago compared the MIND diet with the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. They looked at the diets of 923 participants ages 58 to 98, followed 4½ years on average. Researchers scored the diets on a point system, giving participants points if they ate brain-healthy foods frequently and avoided the unhealthful ones.
The study found that people with high adherence to the Mediterranean and DASH diets also saw reductions in Alzheimer’s – the DASH diet cut the risk by 39 percent, and the Mediterranean diet cut the risk by 54 percent. But even moderate adherence to the MIND diet produced significant benefits, which wasn’t the case with the other two diets.
The longer a person follows the MIND food plan, the lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, researchers found.
The study was well-designed and promising, said Veronica Galvan, an assistant professor in the department of physiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center, who studies Alzheimer’s disease and is not associated with the study.
“I think it’s an exciting study,” Galvan said.
It does have its limitations. As with most dietary studies, it’s based on observations of diet and disease. The researchers relied on participants’ responses on food-frequency questionnaires. That means the results show an association between diet and Alzheimer’s but don’t prove cause and effect.
Galvan said more research involving larger groups of participants is needed. Some variables, such as race, were noticeably absent.
Still, she said, the diet is a healthful one.
“There’s no question it’s beneficial throughout,” she said. “It’s really hard to find a negative.”