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Can the MIND diet reduce dementia risk?

This question was asked recently in our Nourish by Jane Clarke Facebook Community. It’s a good one because, while many of us want to be proactive about protecting our health for the future, it can be difficult to cut through the thicket of information around food and wellbeing out there to find true, evidence-based research. Happily, the MIND diet, ticks a lot of boxes for good science (see Behind the MIND Diet, below).

The MIND diet is actually a mash-up of two other diets associated with reduced dementia risk, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which is used to lower blood pressure. The MIND diet aims to pinpoint the brain-healthy foods of the Mediterranean and DASH diets and to cut out foods associated with cognitive decline. The results are encouraging. At the end of a study conducted by scientists from two US medical schools, researchers concluded the MIND diet may slow down the cognitive decline associated with ageing and reduce risk of developing dementia.

From a Nourish perspective, what’s great about the diet is that it’s full of wholesome, tasty ingredients that can be used to make the most delicious meals – beany soups such as ribollita, with its iron-hit of kale; berries that add a wonderful flavour-pop on their own or made into ice creams, smoothies and puddings; pulses for comforting dahl; and oily fish for flavoursome fishcakes and patés. And while it’s good to have clear guidelines about recommended foods, it’s no good if you don’t actually feel tempted to eat the food in front of you. So, experiment with the ingredients on the MIND diet list, add in your own healthy favourites and look forward to meals that nourish your mind, body and soul.

Foods to eat on the MIND diet
green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale 
other vegetables, such as red peppers, squash, carrots and broccoli 
berries, including blueberries and strawberries 
beans, lentils and soybeans 
olive oil 
wine (in moderation)

Foods to avoid
Red meats
Butter and margarine
Pastries and sweets
Fried or fast food

Behind the MIND Diet
Studies have shown a link between the MIND diet and lower risk of dementia. A study published by the American Geriatrics Society last year found both the Mediterranean diet and the MIND diet are linked to around 35 per cent lower risk of memory difficulties.

An earlier study conducted by researchers at the Rush University Medical School in Chicago and Harvard School of Public Health in Boston found participants who closely followed the MIND diet had a brain age eight years younger than those in the study who didn’t stick closely to the plan.

It’s important to remember that this type of observational study cannot show cause and effect; it can only show an association between the diet and slower mental decline. The research does strongly support the principles of the diet, and the results of other studies, that suggest a diet rich in wholegrains, certain fruits and vegetables and healthy fats, and a reduction in processed food and saturated fats, may help reduce dementia risk.

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