You are what you eat.
While we often think of this adage as applying to the body, there’s increasing evidence that it applies to the brain as well.
A diet rich in green leafy vegetables, beans, berries, whole grains and wine can help to slow normal brain aging and cognitive decline, according to a new study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Elderly adults who closely followed the MIND diet were cognitively 7.5 years younger over a period of nearly five years compared with those who followed it least.
MIND, or Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, is a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH eating plans, both of which are backed by the National Institutes of Health for lowering high blood pressure and reducing risk of heart disease and stroke.
What’s on the MIND diet?
The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 brain-healthy food groups:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Other vegetables
- Whole grains
- Olive oil
And 5 unhealthy groups:
- Red meats
- Butter and stick margarine
- Pastries and sweets
- Fast or fried foods
The rule is to eat more from the healthy groups, less from the unhealthy groups. Here are the optimal weekly servings from the brain-healthy food groups:
- At least three servings of whole grains a day
- A leafy green salad and one other vegetable a day
- A glass of wine a day
- A serving of nuts a day
- Beans every other day
- Berries and poultry at least twice a week
- Fish at least once a week
- Olive oil
Both the Mediterranean and DASH diets have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems.
The hybrid MIND diet, however, appears to extend even more benefit to the brain.
In an earlier study, the researchers showed that this diet may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Those who moderately followed the MIND diet had a 35 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. However, those who moderately followed the Mediterranean or DASH diets showed no reduced risk for the disease.
The only fruits in the MIND diet are berries. Blueberries and strawberries, in particular, have been hailed for their brain benefits in past research.
Iris Boettcher, MD, chief of geriatrics for the Spectrum Health Medical Group, is encouraged by the connections between what we eat and better brain health.
“While everyone experiences some decline in mental ability with aging, the fact that even just moderately adhering to the MIND diet still resulted in significant protection against Alzheimer’s and substantially slowed cognitive decline is noteworthy,” she said.