The MIND diet (short for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. Both diets have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions such as heart attack, hypertension and stroke. Researchers at Rush University Medical Center created the diet, and according to preliminary findings, the diet may help slow the cognitive decline in stroke survivors. The discovery is significant since stroke survivors are twice as likely to develop dementia when compared to the general population.
“The foods that promote brain health, including vegetables, berries, fish and olive oil, are included in the MIND diet,” said Dr. Laurel J. Cherian, a vascular neurologist and the lead author of the study. The MIND diet has 15 dietary elements, including ten brain-healthy food groups, and five unhealthy groups which include red meat, butter, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried and fast food.
From 2004 to 2017, Cherian and colleagues studied 106 participants for the Rush Memory and Aging Project who had a history of stroke associated with a decline in their ability to think, reason and remember. Participants were assessed every year for an average of 5.9 years, and their eating habits were monitored using food journals.
The researchers grouped participants into three groups: (1) those who were highly adherent to the MIND diet; (2) those who were moderately adherent; and (3) those who were least adherent. Participants whose diets scored highest on the MIND diet grading scheme had substantially slower rates of cognitive decline than those who scored lowest. “The Mediterranean and DASH diets have been shown to be protective against coronary artery disease and stroke, but it seems that the nutrients emphasized in the MIND diet may be better suited to overall brain health and preserving cognition,” Cherian said. According to Cherian, studies have found that folate, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids and flavonoids are associated with slower rates of cognitive decline, while substances such as saturated and hydrogenated fats have been linked with dementia.
To adhere to the MIND diet, you need to eat at least three servings of whole grains and two portions of vegetables every day, one of which must be a leafy green; you must also snack most days on nuts, have beans every other day, eat poultry and berries at least twice a week and eat fish once a week.
Cherian cautions that the study had a relatively small number of participants and its findings cannot be interpreted as a cause-and-effect relationship. Although further research is needed to understand the link between this style of eating and its positive effects on the brain, “For now, I think there is enough information to encourage stroke patients to view food as an important tool to optimize their brain health,” says Cherian.