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MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet, a dietary pattern based on the Mediterranean and DASH diets as a basis, but modifies them to place more emphasis on foods that have been linked by previous research to improved cognitive function and delayed decline.

MIND diet foods reflect nutrients shown to slow cognitive decline, lower risk of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) decrease neuron loss in animal studies, or decrease oxidative stress and inflammation. MIND-recommended foods are rich in nutrients such as omega-3s (DHA in particular), which are among the more important lipid structures in the brain. They lead to higher synaptic transmission and less oxidative stress. The diet also includes plenty of B vitamins such as folate, and vitamins C and D, all of which have been found in multiple analyses and randomized controlled studies to help neurons cope with aging.

Research background:

No studies on cognitive decline and AD have found an association with fruits as a general category. However, berries such as strawberries and blueberries have been shown to decrease neuron loss and improve memory performance in a relatively large body of animal studies and the Nurses’ Health Study.

A systematic review and meta-analysis published on the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, reported pooled results of the association between the Mediterranean diet and risk of MCI (mild cognitive impairment) and AD from eligible prospective studies. randomized controlled trial (RCT) or a cohort study with longitudinal follow up of at least 1 year. A total of 5 papers (6 cohorts) met the eligibility criteria, of which three are from the US, one each from Australia and France. The mean age of study participants varied from 62 years to 80 years. Cognitively normal or had MCI.

The systematic review and meta-analysis suggested that higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of developing MCI and AD, and reduced risk of MCI conversion to AD. High adherence to any of these diets was associated with reduced risk of cognitive decline. For the people who followed the diet most closely, the Mediterranean diet had the greatest impact, with the top one-third of adherents realizing a 54% reduction in the risk of developing AD. The MIND diet was a close second at 53% reduction. Findings from this study suggests the need for further prospective longitudinal studies with longer follow-up and randomized controlled trials to determine whether adherence to the Mediterranean diet could reduce the risk of MCI and AD.

MIND Study was done with a population of retirement homes in Chicago, about 1000K participants evaluated, mostly white older adults. They also investigated potential modifications in the estimated effect of the MIND diet score on cognitive decline by age, sex, education, physical activity, low weight (BMI≤20), obese (BMI≥30), and each of the cardiovascular-related conditions (hypertension, myocardial infarction, stroke, diabetes). However, there was no statistical evidence that the diet effect on the global or individual domain cognitive scores differed by level or presence of any of these risk factors. The primary limitation of the study is that it is observational and thus the findings cannot be interpreted as a cause and effect relation. Furthermore, the findings were based on an old, largely non-Hispanic white study population and cannot be generalized to younger populations or different racial/ethnic groups. 

Spotlight on Foods for Cognitive Health

9 Foods to Eat
FoodQuantity & ServingsExamples & Tips
Green Leafy VegetablesAt least 1 serving/day
One serving = 1 cup raw or
1⁄2 cup cooked
Spinach, kale, collards, Swiss chard, mustard greens, turnip greens, dandelion greens, arugula, endive, grape leaves, romaine lettuce
Most Other VegetablesAt least 1 serving/day
One serving =
1⁄2 cup
A salad + at least 1 other veggie every day
Asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, green beans, mushrooms, onions, okra, snow peas, squash, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes/tomato sauce
Nuts5 oz. total/week One serving =
1 oz.
Peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, or natural nut butter
BerriesAt least 5 servings/week One serving =
1⁄2 cup
Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries
Beans/LegumesAt least 3 servings/week One serving =
1⁄2 cup
Black, pinto, cannellini, garbanzo, kidney, lima, red/white, navy, lentils, tofu, edamame, hummus, soy yogurt
Whole Grains3 servings/day, every day
One serving =
1⁄2 cup or 1 slice
Whole grain bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, wild rice, quinoa, barley, bulgar, farro, oats, whole grain cereal
FishAt least 1 serving/week
One serving =
3 to 5 oz.
Salmon, tuna, tilapia, cod, mahi mahi, halibut (not fried)
PoultryAt least 2 servings/week
One serving = 3 to 5 oz.
Chicken or turkey breast (White meat & skinless)
Extra virgin olive oil2 Tbsp/day
One serving = 2 Tbsp
Use unrefined EVOO as primary oil
5 Foods to Avoid
FoodQuantity & ServingsExamples
Red Meat & Processed MeatNo more than 3 servings/week
One serving =
3 to 5 oz.
Beef, lamb, pork, ham, burger, hot dogs, sausages, bacon, roast beef, salami
Butter & Stick MargarineLess than 1 pat (tsp)/dayUse EVOO instead
Regular CheeseNo more than 2 oz./weekFull-fat cheese
Pastries & Other SweetsNo more than 4 treats/weekCake, pastries, donuts, cookies, brownies, pie, candy bars, other candy, ice cream, pudding, milkshakes
Fried Foods & Fast FoodsNo more than 1 meal/weekFast food or any fried foods including fried potato chips

Walnuts and nuts. Several studies suggest a potential relationship between nuts, particularly walnuts, and cognitive health. Walnuts, whose antioxidant activities are well documented, contain vitamin E and unique polyphenols, including the ellagitannin pedunculagin. Ellagitannins have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and their hydrolysis releases a compound that’s activated by gut bacteria. Walnuts also contain more alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, than other nuts. Omega-3s are present in high concentrations in the brain, hence the thought that dietary omega-3s play a role in cognitive health.

There is a vast literature demonstrating neuroprotection of the brain by vitamin E, rich sources of which are vegetable oils, nuts, and whole grains

Fish and seafood. The relationship between fish and seafood and cognitive health appears promising. Two pooled studies showed that groups eating the most fish had lower risk of depression. The benefits of fish consumption have been attributed to its omega-3 fatty acid content, but research to date is inconclusive.

Blueberries. Researchers who conducted a 12-week study on participants who consumed blueberry concentrate (387 mg anthocyanidins/30 mL) vs placebo observed increases in brain activity in areas associated with cognition among those who drank the concentrate. The anthocyanins in blueberries are thought to confer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Blueberries contain an average of 199 mg anthocyanins/100 g blueberries, so while matching the amount of anthocyanins in blueberry concentrate is realistic, it requires eating more than a cup of blueberries each day.

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