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DEAR MAYO CLINIC: What exactly is the MIND diet, and can it really help prevent dementia? Is it a healthy diet for everyone?
ANSWER: The MIND diet is a combination of two other healthy diets, so it is a healthy option. Results from a recent study show that, over time, older adults who followed the MIND diet appeared to have less cognitive decline, such as memory problems. The effect of food on cognitive health has been the subject of research for quite some time. The research has shown that certain foods — particularly plant foods, such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and berries — can help preserve brain function.
The MIND diet includes a variety of brain-friendly foods. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It includes aspects of a Mediterranean diet, as well as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, diet. A Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, legumes, whole grains and fish. The DASH diet, often recommended for people who need to lower their blood pressure, emphasizes vegetables, fruit and low-fat dairy foods, along with moderate amounts of whole grains, fish, poultry and nuts.
To evaluate the benefits of the MIND diet, researchers monitored the eating habits of 900 older adults for several years. Specifically, they assessed a pattern of eating that emphasizes foods associated with cognitive benefit and limits foods associated with cognitive decline. This pattern of eating includes relatively high amounts of green leafy vegetables, as well as other vegetables, berries, fish, olive oil, whole grains, beans, nuts and poultry, along with moderate amounts of wine. It also includes low amounts of red meat, cheese, butter, margarine, fried foods, pastries and sweets.
Researchers found that people who regularly followed this pattern of eating showed less cognitive decline over time than people who did not. Based on previous studies, the results of this study are not surprising. But they extend the previous research by looking at an entire pattern of eating, not just specific foods. The results also are consistent with many studies that show benefits from this pattern of eating on other health conditions. It helps lower blood pressure and serum cholesterol, and it follows guidelines to lower the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Following the Mediterranean diet, upon which the MIND diet is partially based, can be a very tasty way of eating that incorporates different types of salads with olive oil, whole-grain pasta or rice with vegetables, and fish, poultry or beans. But making beneficial dietary changes and transitioning to a diet that relies more heavily on plants may seem challenging. There are strategies you can use to make it easier.
For example, plan ahead before you shop or make meals. Try new recipes that incorporate MIND diet foods. Keep different types of berries and mixed nuts on hand to snack on, rather than potato chips or processed crackers. When you eat at a restaurant, try grilled fish or chicken rather than fried. Start off with a salad and include generous amounts of vegetables. Stick to whole-grain bread with a little olive oil rather than white bread with butter. Opt for berries for dessert instead of pastries or other sweets. Eating in this way can be enjoyable, and the benefits on your mind, your overall health and your quality of life can be tremendous.
Because the MIND diet incorporates a wide variety of healthy food choices, it is safe for most people. If you have a chronic medical condition that requires you to eat or avoid certain foods, however, it would be a good idea to talk with your health care provider before you make significant changes to your diet. — Donald Hensrud, M.D., Preventive Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.