Not only is it National Nutrition Month, but St. Patrick’s Day is also right around the corner. If you need a good reason to eat green, I’ll give you some food for thought. A recent study published in the journal Neurology provides more evidence that green leafy vegetables should be eaten more often to prevent dementia.
If you’ve never heard of the MIND diet, keep reading. Appropriately named, MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. In short, it’s an eating style meant to protect us from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
The study found that individuals that consumed a diet full of green leafy and other vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, legumes (beans), nuts, and fish have fewer amyloid plaques and tau tangles in their brains, which are signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
MIND and Mediterranean Diets Matter
Researchers focused on how closely people adhered to the MIND and Mediterranean diets. Although the diets are similar, MIND puts more emphasis on green leafy vegetables and berries and advises eating fish more frequently during the week. Both diets advise moderate consumption of wine.
The study does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship but rather an association of regularly eating this type of diet with fewer signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to eating 6 servings of green leafy vegetables weekly, avoiding fried foods was also linked with fewer amyloid plaques in the brain. The researchers estimated that this was similar to being 4 years young. Who wouldn’t want to shave 4 years of their life? Study author Puja Agarwal, PhD of Rush University notes, “following the MIND and Mediterranean diets may be one way that people can improve their brain health and protect cognition as they age.”
The study consisted of 581 individuals with an average age of 84. At the time of diet assessment, the people agreed to donate their brains after death for research on dementia. Subjects answered annual questionnaires about various food items that they consumed in different categories.
Subjects died on average died seven years after the beginning of the research. Prior to their deaths, 39% of subjects were diagnosed with dementia. After death, upon autopsy, 66% met the diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer’s disease.
The brains of participants were examined by researchers to find the amounts of amyloid plaques and tau tangles. These are present in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease but may also be present in the brains of older adults without cognitive impairment. Researchers then reviewed the food questionnaires previously collected during follow-up and the quality of diet was ranked for each individual.
What Should or Shouldn’t Be on Your Plate?
The Mediterranean diet contained 11 categories. Subjects were provided a score from zero to 55 with a higher score if they had followed the diet in the following categories: whole grain cereals, fruit, vegetables, beans, olive oil, fish, and potatoes. Lower scores were given if they consumed red meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products.
There were 15 categories for the MIND diet. A score from zero to 15 was given with one point counted for 10 brain-healthy food groups. These included green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine. Points were deducted if they ate more than the suggested in five unhealthy food groups such as red meat, butter and margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried and fast food.
The subjects were then divided into three groups by researchers for each diet and compared in the highest groups to those in the lowest groups. People in the highest group for the Mediterranean diet had an average score of 35 while those in the lowest group had an average score of 26. The highest average score for the MIND diet was 9 while the lowest group score had an average of 6.
The researchers then adjusted for age at death, education, total energy intake, and whether subjects possessed a gene linked to greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease. They discovered that those who scored highest in adherence to the Mediterranean diet had an average plaque and tangle amount in their brains close to being 18 years younger compared to those with the lowest scores.
Those adhering to the MIND diet had average tangle and plaque amounts similar to being 12 years younger than those with the lowest scores.
Just one-point higher score in the MIND diet was linked with usual plaque amounts in participants who were 4 1/4 years young.
Eat More Greens
After evaluating single diet components, researchers discovered that those who consumed the highest amounts of leafy green vegetables (7 or more servings per week) had brain plaques corresponding to being nearly 19 years younger than individuals that ate the least amounts, with one or fewer servings per week.
Study author Agarwal notes, “”Our finding that eating more green leafy vegetables is in itself associated with fewer signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain is intriguing enough for people to consider adding more of these vegetables to their diet,” Future studies are needed to establish our findings further.”
One limitation of the study was that subjects were primarily white, non-Hispanic and older, so results should not be generalized to other populations.
Reference: Association of Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay and Mediterranean Diets With Alzheimer Disease Pathology | Neurology
Some easy ways to follow the MIND or Mediterranean Diets:
- Eat a green leafy salad daily at lunch or dinner (or both).
- Include spinach, chopped kale, or other greens in salads or side dishes.
- Keep frozen blueberries on hand and add to low-fat yogurt or oatmeal.
- Choose whole grain breads and cereals when possible.
- Eat fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel) 2 or more times per week.
- Choose beans or lentils as main dishes 3 or more times per week.
- Limit red meat to 3 or less servings per week.
- Choose chicken twice or more per week. Don’t fry it!
- Limit butter, margarine, sweets and full-fat dairy to less than 5 servings per week.
- Use olive oil as your primary cooking oil. It’s great for salad dressing, too.
Email me at lisa@soundbitesnutrition for a complete MIND dietary tracker.