This Mediterranean Diet Mashup Has Serious Brain Health Benefits

Given the way that topics and diseases surrounding cognitive decline have become more and more of a public health issue (according to the CDC, “the prevalence of subjective cognitive decline (SCD) is 11.1%, or 1 in 9 adults”), it’s no surprise that studies and reviews are also increasingly looking for ways to help support cognitive function as we age.

A paper published earlier this week in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, set out to review previous research linking the “MIND” diet with enhanced cognitive function in older adults, and its reputation held up.

Why this mash-up diet is good for brain health

As a refresher, the MIND diet exists at the intersection of the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet. It was specifically developed with cognitive health in mind. “Note the play on words here,” pointed out certified dietitian and nutritionist Isabel Smith, R.D., CDN. “It technically stands for the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, but the health benefits are brain-heavy.”

The diet places emphasis on specific subsets of both of the other diets, based on research into which foods support brain health. “While all vegetables are permitted on the MIND diet, it places emphasis on leafy green vegetables,” writes Smith, “Another thing that makes the MIND diet stand out is its recommended fruit intake. This diet emphasizes eating berries—specifically blueberries and strawberries—as the primary source of fruit, and doesn’t emphasize any other fruit.” It also focuses on nuts and fish, for their own unique brain health benefits (hello omega-3s!).

During a recent recording of the mindbodygreen podcast, neuroscientist Kristen Willeumier, Ph.D., referred back to an earlier study: “As of 2015, we know that the Mediterranean diet combined with the DASH diet, which is now called the MIND diet,” she says, “can help slow neurodegenerative decline in people who stay on it for as much as seven and a half years.” The 2015 paper she refers to was published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal Of The Alzheimer’s Association, and found that any of the three diets may help decrease risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

What did the new review find?

The new paper took into account all human research published before July 2020, with 13 articles being assessed in the final review. Throughout all the papers, there was evidence “that adherence to the MIND diet was positively associated with […] cognition and global cognitive function (78% of the studies) in older adults,” according to the paper’s abstract.

The review also concluded that when compared to “other plant-rich diets including Mediterranean, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, Pro-Vegetarian and Baltic Sea diets,” the MIND diet was the superior option for improving cognition.

Ways to incorporate the MIND diet into your day-to-day diet

Even if you’re not looking to adopt the MIND diet completely, there are small things you can do to support your cognitive health that are inspired by the diet. Take inspiration from the little things that set this diet apart from the two that inspire it: focusing on getting some dark, leafy greens into your diet every day, snacking on berries or nuts a few times a week, and opting for omega-3 rich fish if, or when, you eat fish.

If you do want to try the MIND diet out in more detail, here’s a sample meal plan and few more of the benefits, in case you’re curious.

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