Food Choices for Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month

Bicycle, frog, yellow (we’ll get back to these words later)

What is dementia?
According to the World Health Organization, dementia is a syndrome – usually of a chronic or progressive nature – that leads to deterioration in the ability to process thought beyond what might be expected from the usual consequences of biological aging. It affects memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language, and judgement. The impairment in cognitive function is commonly accompanied, and occasionally preceded, by changes in mood, emotional control, behavior, or motivation.

Dementia results from a variety of diseases and injuries that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease or stroke.

Dementia is currently the seventh leading cause of death among all diseases and one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide. Dementia has physical, psychological, social, and economic impacts, not only for people living with dementia, but also for their caregivers, families, and society. There is often a lack of awareness and understanding of dementia, resulting in stigmatization and barriers to diagnosis and care.

Worldwide, around 55 million people have dementia, with over 60% living in low- and middle-income countries. As the proportion of older people in the population is increasing in nearly every country, this number is expected to rise to 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050.

Can food choices reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease?
Rush University Medical Center has been studying the role of food choices and their effects on brain health and cognitive decline. Mediterranean and DASH diets are regularly regarded as healthy diets. The Mediterranean diet was inspired by eating habits of people living in Mediterranean countries during the 1960’s. These people had some of the longest lifespans in the world. The DASH diet was created to lower blood pressure without medication and was based on results of clinical trials by the National Institutes of Health.


MIND diet
The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is a hybrid Mediterranean-DASH diet. A study following food frequency of 923 participants between the ages of 58-98 years of age found that both a moderate and high adherence to MIND diet could reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 53%.


Which foods does the MIND diet include?
Recommendations of the MIND diet include:

  • Minimum of 6 servings of green leafy vegetables per week: broccoli, kale, spinach
  • Minimum of 2 servings of berries per week: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
  • All other fruits and vegetables
  • Cook primarily with olive oil
  • 5 servings of nuts and seeds per week
  • Minimum of 3 servings of whole grains per day: quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta and bread
  • At least 1 serving of fatty fish per week: salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, mackerel
  • Minimum of 3 servings of beans and legumes per week: lentils, chickpeas, cannellini beans, kidney beans
  • Poultry at least 2 times per week
  • No more than 1 glass of wine per day

The MIND diet does not require calorie counting nor the elimination of food groups


Are there specific beneficial foods in the MIND diet?
Higher consumption of berries and leafy greens has been most notable with the MIND diet. Berries have antioxidant properties that may help improve brain function. One study from Annals of Neurology, showed berries can help prevent cognitive decline in women by up to 2.5 years.

Leafy greens are rich sources of folate, lutein, and beta carotene. Greens may have some of the strongest protective effects against cognitive decline.


Are there any unhealthy foods?
Recommendations include:

  • Limiting red meats to fewer than 4 portions per week
  • Use less than 1 Tbsp. butter and stick margarine per day
  • Less than 1 serving of cheese per week
  • Less than 5 servings of pastries and sweets per week
  • Less than 1 fried or fast-food item per week

Although MIND diet does not specifically involve exercise, regular physical activity may also help prevent cognitive decline. Movement increases blood flow to the brain and helps supply brain cells with nutrients. According to Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, regular physical activity can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50%.

Do you remember the first three words in this blog? If not, maybe it is time to consider following the MIND diet.