By Camille Noe Pagán WebMD Feature Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD
Want another great reason to eat healthy? The food choices you make daily might lower your odds of getting Alzheimer’s disease, some scientists say.
Researchers have found that people who stuck to a diet that included foods like berries, leafy greens, and fish had a major drop in their risk for the memory-sapping disorder, which affects more than 5 million Americans over age 65.
The eating plan is called the MIND diet. Here’s how it works.
MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It’s similar to two other healthy meal plans: the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet.
But the MIND approach “specifically includes foods and nutrients that medical literature and data show to be good for the brain, such as berries,” says Martha Clare Morris, ScD, director of nutrition and nutritional epidemiology at Rush University Medical Center.
You eat things from these 10 food groups:
- Green leafy vegetables (like spinach and salad greens): At least six servings a week
- Other vegetables: At least one a day
- Nuts: Five servings a week
- Berries: Two or more servings a week
- Beans: At least three servings a week
- Whole grains: Three or more servings a day
- Fish: Once a week
- Poultry (like chicken or turkey): Two times a week
- Olive oil: Use it as your main cooking oil.
- Wine: One glass a day
- Red meat: Less 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 study showed that people who stuck to the MIND diet lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 54%. That’s big. But maybe even more importantly, researchers found that adults who followed the diet only part of the time still cut their risk of the disease by about 35%.
On the other hand, people who followed the DASH and Mediterranean diets “moderately” had almost no drop in their Alzheimer’s risk, Morris says.
Scientists need to do more research on the MIND approach, “but it’s a very promising start. It shows that what you eat can make an impact on whether you develop late-onset Alzheimer’s,” which is the most common form of the disease, says Cecilia Rokusek, a registered dietitian at Nova Southeastern University.
Should You Follow the MIND Diet?
Even if you don’t have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease or other risk factors, you may still want to try this eating plan. It focuses on nutritious whole foods, so “it’s not just good for your brain. It’s good your heart and overall health, too,” says Majid Fotuhi, MD, PhD. He is the chairman and CEO of the Memosyn Neurology Institute.
One of the best things about the plan is that you don’t have to stick to it perfectly to see benefits, Rokusek says. “That makes it more likely you’ll follow it for a long time,” she says. And the longer people eat the MIND way, the lower their risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease, Morris says.
If you do decide to make your diet more MIND-like, Rokusek recommends you take a few extra steps. “Keep your portions in check, and be careful about how food is prepared. Sauces, breading, and oils can add extra calories and hidden ingredients like sugar,” she says. “Make a point to drink several glasses of water a day, too.”
Last, understand that even though diet plays a big role, “it’s only one aspect of Alzheimer’s disease,” Fotuhi says. So get regular exercise and manage your stress to lower your risk even more, he says.