Diet and Dementia: the Good News

ThinkstockPhotos-497747272_field_img_hero_988_380There’s little doubt that one of the daunting prospects of aging is the lurking possibility of dementia. No one wants to lose their faculties, let alone their independence and quality of life. That we might be able to reduce that likelihood with something as simple as diet is a notion worthy of attention.

Over the past decade, numerous research scientists have looked for the connection between diet and dementia. Again and again, the results seem to point to significant benefits from a Mediterranean-type diet known as MIND: Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes: eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts; use of olive oil and canola oil in place of butter or margarine; using herbs and spices instead of salt; limiting red meat; eating fish and poultry at least twice a week; and drinking red wine in moderation.

The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which focuses on reducing sodium, also according to the Mayo Clinic, includes “lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. The DASH diet also includes some fish, poultry and legumes, and encourages a small amount of nuts and seeds a few times a week. You can eat red meat, sweets and fats in small amounts. The DASH diet is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat.”

The MIND diet combines the two. The Berkeley Wellness letter spells it out: “The MIND diet features whole grains (at least three servings a day), leafy greens (at least six servings a week), other veggies (daily), nuts (at least five servings a week), beans (at least three servings a week), berries (at least twice a week), poultry (at least twice a week), fish (at least once a week), olive oil (as the primary oil), and wine (5 ounces a day). It advises limiting or avoiding red meats, fried and fast foods, butter, stick margarine, cheese, and pastries and other sweets. Berries are the only fruit specified on the diet because they have been most strongly linked to cognitive health.”

While researchers agree that more controlled studies are needed (previous studies are based on participants’ self-reporting), the results are impressive: improved cognitive health and the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s lowered by a third.

You can read more about this important work in a recent CNN report.