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MIND diet could help fight off dementia

A woman slices vegetables as a man holding a pot stands behind her

May 15, 2023— Could your diet be a key to keeping your mind sharp as you age? Research suggests that it may play a role.

A recent study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that following an eating pattern called the MIND diet—a blend of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet and blood pressure-lowering DASH diet—was linked to a reduced risk of dementia, which includes Alzheimer's disease.

In fact, the researchers found that people who most closely followed the MIND diet had a 17% lower risk of dementia than those whose didn't follow the diet closely.

What is the MIND diet?

The MIND diet is not a strict diet. It's an eating pattern that focuses on mostly plant-based foods that are linked to brain health. These include:

  • Beans.
  • Berries.
  • Fish.
  • Leafy green vegetables (think kale and spinach).
  • Nuts.
  • Olive oil.
  • Poultry.
  • Whole grains.

The MIND diet limits red meat, cheese, butter, sweets, fried foods and other sources of saturated fat.

Analyzing diet and dementia risk

Previous studies have found that people who follow the MIND diet have better cognitive function than those with other eating styles. Now researchers wanted to know if the brain-boosting foods encouraged by the MIND diet might help prevent dementia.

The researchers analyzed data from three studies that tracked people's health over time. Each of the three asked people about their health and diet over a period of decades. But they weren't originally studying the effects of the MIND diet.

By combining the data from those studies, researchers analyzed information from 18,136 middle-aged and older adults. The researchers used their answers to see how closely they followed the MIND diet. None of the people had dementia when they entered the study.

The researchers combined their findings with the results of 11 previous studies on the MIND diet and dementia that included another 224,049 people.

Among their key findings:

  • The more closely people followed the MIND diet, the lower their risk of dementia was.
  • People who most closely followed the MIND diet had a 17% lower risk of dementia than those who whose diets were least in line with the diet.

How might the MIND diet help head off dementia? It might protect the brain through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It also might help prevent beta-amyloid deposits, which are found in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease. Or it could be that the MIND diet helps protect the brain indirectly, by helping to keep the heart and blood vessels healthy.

More research is needed

While the new study found that following the MIND diet was linked with a reduced risk of dementia, it does not prove that the diet was what prevented dementia.

Also, there were limitations to the study. The participants shared the choices of their diet choices by answering surveys. But they may not have remembered what they ate accurately.

More studies are needed in other groups of people, the study authors noted.

A broader look at brain health

Keep in mind that research into the MIND diet is ongoing. Aiming for a balanced and varied diet is generally the best way to ensure that you're getting all the nutrients your body needs. Your doctor or a dietitian can help you choose the best approach for your needs.

It's also important to remember that diet is just one factor in healthy aging. Getting regular exercise, plenty of sleep and routine medical checkups and taking care of our mental health are also essential, the National Institute on Aging reports.

To learn more about brain health, including when memory problems might be a sign of Alzheimer's, check out our Brain health topic center.


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