By: Sam van Kalkeren, MSN, RN, CDP, CADDCT
You are what you eat. This phrase originated in 1826 by French lawyer Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. In his book Physilogie du Gout, he wrote, “dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es,” which translates to “tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” In 1863, German author, Andreas Feuerbach, wrote an essay that contained the phrase “der mensch ist, was er iβt.” This translates to “man is what he eats.”
Neither Brillat-Savarin nor Feuerbach meant their words to be taken literally. They were stating that the food that we eat has a direct impact on our health and state of mind. If we want to be healthy, we need to eat nutritious food. This is now common knowledge. But are certain types of foods or specific diets better than others? Can we prevent specific illnesses through the food we eat? The answer is not a definitive yes or no, but we can improve our chances of avoiding certain diseases. For example, researchers studying the MIND diet found a 53% lower rate of Alzheimer’s disease for individuals who strictly adhered to the MIND diet. Another study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that the MIND diet may reduce the risk of dementia. Researchers studied the diets and cognitive health of 242,185 middle-aged and older adults. They found that the top third of the participants who most closely adhered to the MIND diet had a lower risk of dementia than those in the bottom third who followed the diet less closely.
Reducing the Risk of Dementia
Dementia is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and Alzheimer’s disease kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias rob people of their dignity and cause distress among families, motivating many to search for ways to prevent dementia.
What is the MIND Diet?
The MIND diet was designed to reduce the loss of brain function and the risk of dementia as we age. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It combines elements of the DASH diet, which is used to help reduce hypertension, and the Mediterranean diet to create a dietary pattern that nourishes the brain. Experts chose these two diets because they are regarded as the two healthiest diets by many and have been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other diseases. The MIND diet contains foods rich in flavonoids, carotenoids, and specific vitamins that are thought to help protect the brain.
What to Eat on the MIND Diet
Here are the ten foods you can eat when following the MIND diet.
- Berries: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. Berries have antioxidant properties, and eating berries at least twice a week is recommended.
- Green, leafy vegetables: kale, spinach, salads, and cooked greens. It is recommended to eat six or more servings per week.
- All other vegetables: non-starchy vegetables, including broccoli, carrots, celery, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini. Eat at least one of these vegetables once per day.
- Fish: trout, tuna, salmon, sardines, and mackerel. Eat fish at least once per week.
- Poultry: Eat chicken or turkey at least twice per week. Do not eat fried chicken or turkey.
- Nuts: a variety of salt-free nuts. Eat five or more servings each week.
- Whole grains: oatmeal, quinoa, whole wheat bread and pasta, and brown rice. Try to eat at least three servings daily.
- Beans: lentils, soybeans, and all other beans. Eat at least four servings per week.
- Olive oil: use as your cooking oil.
- Wine: Do not drink more than one glass a day. If you do not drink, it is okay to skip the wine.
Foods to Avoid
Here are the five foods to avoid when following the MIND diet.
- Cheese: it is recommended to eat cheese less than once per week.
- Fried food: it is recommended to avoid fried food.
- Red meat: beef, pork, lamb, and products from these meats. It is recommended to be at most three servings per week.
- Butter and margarine: eating less than one tablespoon daily is recommended, but avoid butter and margarine altogether if possible. Use olive oil instead to cook with and dip your bread in.
- Pastries and sweets: brownies, cookies, ice cream, candy, doughnuts, and all processed foods. Limiting these to no more than four times per week is recommended.
These five types of foods contain saturated fats. Saturated fats are associated with many diseases, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to note that research on saturated fats is inconclusive, but consuming excess saturated fats is associated with poor brain health.
Impact of the MIND Diet
Researchers believe that the MIND diet works to reduce dementia because it helps to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Inflammation is the body’s response to infection and injury. Prolonged inflammation can lead to many chronic diseases. Free radicals cause oxidative stress. Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage our cells. The brain is highly vulnerable to free radical damage. The foods recommended in the MIND diet contain high amounts of antioxidants, which combat free radicals. The recommended foods also help reduce inflammation, especially the omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish. Even though the MIND diet is focused on brain health, it may also help protect against heart disease, diabetes, and specific cancers.
Other Modifying Factors
Besides eating a healthy diet, such as the MIND diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, and not smoking are important to help prevent cognitive decline. It is recommended that people aim for 150 minutes of moderate- to high-intensity exercise a week to promote brain health. When it comes to sleep, researchers suggest getting between six to eight hours of sleep each night. Individuals who sleep less than five hours per night are more likely to develop dementia.
For More Support
If you or someone you care about has dementia, is looking for more support, or needs professional guidance, we’re here to help. Contact us today to learn how our compassionate team of care coordination experts can help you get the support you need and help you navigate care needs.
Budson, A. (2021, May 3). Sleep well – and reduce your risk of dementia and death. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/sleep-well-and-reduce-your-risk-of-dementia-and-death-2021050322508#:~:text=Sleep%20six%20to%20eight%20hours%20each%20night&text=Researchers%20found%20that%20individuals%20who,to%20eight%20hours%20per%20night.
MIND diet may reduce the risk of dementia. (2023, May 16). Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/mind-diet-may-reduce-risk-of-dementia/
Pearson, K., and Burford, M. (2023, April 21). The MIND diet: A detailed guide for beginners. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mind-diet