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The New Diet That May Preserve Your Memory

A recent study suggests that a new diet—known by the acronym MIND—could more than halve your risk of Alzheimer's disease (AD) even if you don't follow it meticulously. The eating plan cherry-picks from the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, both of which have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.

There is much evidence that both these diets (and particularly the Mediterranean diet) confer a protective effect when it comes to brain health—indeed, the MIND study found that older people whose usual diet was close to any one of the diets included were less likely to develop AD than those eating less healthfully. But neurologist Sam Gandy, MD, PhD, director of Mount Sinai's Center for Cognitive Health and NFL Cognitive Care, is enthusiastic about MIND, partly because these data suggest that even following the new diet on a moderate basis led to a reduction in the risk for AD.

Top 10 "brainhealthy" food groups The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 "brain-healthy" food groups (green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine), and five unhealthy groups that comprise red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food. MIND includes at least three servings of whole grains, a salad, and one other vegetable every day, along with a glass of wine.

MIND also involves snacking most days on nuts and eating beans every other day or so, poultry and berries at least twice a week, and fish at least once a week. According to the study, dieters must limit eating the designated unhealthy foods, especially butter (less than one tablespoon a day), cheese, and fried or fast food (less than a serving a week for any of the three), to have a real shot at avoiding the devastating effects of AD.

Berries are the only fruit specifically to make the MIND diet, though the researchers only tracked the participants' consumption of strawberries. Mount Sinai nutrition consultant Fran Grossman, RD, MS, CDE, CDN, recommends that you branch out in the berry family, including raspberries and blueberries in particular. "Berries are packed with antioxidants," Grossman says. "Eating a bowl of mixed berries every day is the best dietary supplement you can try." One of the easiest ways to get more berries into your diet is to buy them frozen—use them to make smoothies, or defrost them and eat them with natural yogurt, or a bowl of oatmeal.

Moderate adherence e¬ffective The MIND study, published online in Alzheimer's & Dementia, analyzed the food intake of 923 older adults, average age 81, who were scored on how closely their food intake matched either the MIND diet, the Mediterranean diet, or the DASH diet. The participants all had annual neurological examinations for an average of four to five years, to check for AD.

The data revealed that participants who followed the Mediterranean diet were at 54 percent lower risk for AD, while those who followed the MIND diet had a 53 percent lower risk. Followers of the DASH diet had a 39 percent reduced risk. However, the MIND diet was marked by the 35 percent lower risk it conferred on people who adhered to it only moderately. Conversely, participants who had a moderate adherence to the Mediterranean or DASH diets showed no reduced risk for AD.

No downside Dr. Gandy emphasizes that the study doesn't prove that any of the diets protected against AD, only that there seems to be a link between diet and AD. "In the case of MIND, only a randomized, controlled study can prove cause-and-effect," he explains. "We also can't be sure whether MIND, the Mediterranean diet, or DASH is best, since they weren't directly compared."

However, Dr. Gandy notes that the MIND study accounted for other factors that may affect AD risk, including the participants' smoking history, exercise habits, how often they engaged in mentally challenging activities, and if they had a history of obesity, depression, diabetes, and/or heart disease. Participants also were tested for the ApoE gene, which raises the risk for AD.

Dr. Gandy concludes that even in the absence of solid evidence, there is no downside to following the MIND diet, and that you may find it easier to stick to than either the Mediterranean or DASH diet. "For example, the Mediterranean diet calls for eating fish every day, and three to four servings of both fruits and vegetables each day," he says. "Many people are put off by diets that set a rigid eating pattern, but MIND is easier to follow. I think that will motivate people who might be put off by how prescriptive the Mediterranean and DASH diets are." One caveat though: the MIND diet allows for one glass of wine a day, but Dr. Gandy says that if you don't drink alcohol, you shouldn't take up the habit in order to better follow the new eating plan.

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