Did you know someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease every 65 seconds? Nearly 6 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s disease, but this number is projected to grow to nearly 14 million by 2050 as our population over age 65 surges. As the sixth leading cause of death with no known cure, it is wise to take action to lower your risk by protecting your brain.
There are many Alzheimer’s warning signs, but the most common symptom is memory loss that disrupts daily activity, especially forgetting recently learned dates, names, and events. Other warning signs include difficulty developing or following tasks involving numbers; losing track of the passage of time; having trouble following conversation; misplacing and losing items in odd places; and making poor decisions regularly. Keep in mind that forgetting, but later remembering, new information and displaying the other listed behaviors occasionally is normal!
People over age 65 are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but nearly 200,000 Americans under age 65 have diagnosed early-onset Alzheimer’s. Although early-onset cases make up only 5% of all Alzheimer’s diagnoses, this number is likely underestimated as the disease is difficult to identify. If you have a family history of dementia or if you want to keep your risk low, a growing body of evidence suggests eating habits may affect the onset of cognitive decline. Just as eating a heart-healthy diet lowers your risk of heart disease, eating a brain-healthy diet can help keep your brain biologically young.
The aptly named MIND Diet, or Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay Diet, combines the best of two well-established eating patterns (the Mediterranean Diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension Diet) proven to reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases and death. The two eating patterns share many similarities, emphasizing a wide variety of plant-based foods, including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and legumes.
Unlike its predecessors, MIND defines which foods to eat (and how often) and which to avoid. The protocol was developed just within the last decade, so more research is needed to fully understand how and if the suggestions reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease as expected. The suggestions originate from 20 years of research on older adults’ eating patterns and their risk of developing dementia over time. The epidemiological study found that people who followed this brain-healthy diet reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s by an average of 53% when followed rigorously! Patients who followed the diet moderately well saw a less powerful but still impactful 35% risk reduction. Researchers also reported that the MIND eating pattern helped keep dieters’ brains 7 ½ years younger than people who did not closely follow the diet. Check out the food lists below:
If the MIND Diet seems out of reach for you, don’t worry about jumping all-in right away. You can work on making changes slowly! If you find that you eat many of the foods on the “avoid” list, work on cutting them out of your diet one at a time. Start with an easy goal, like switching to whole grains or choosing olive oil instead of butter. Once you’ve tackled your first healthy habit, switch to another while consciously incorporating more vegetables, nuts, beans, and berries.
Eating a MIND Diet doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive! Find simple ways to incorporate brain-healthy foods. For breakfast, try a sandwich made with two slices of whole grain bread spread with 2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter plus ½ cup of berries for 2 servings of whole grains, one serving of nuts, and one serving of berries. For lunch, have ½ a cup of brown rice, plus ½ a cup of seasoned black beans, plus 1 cup of cooked pepper, spinach, and onion to check off a serving of whole grains, beans, and vegetables. For dinner, cook salmon patties made with whole wheat bread crumbs and pan-fried in a small amount of olive oil. Serve with a side of steamed vegetables of your choice flavored with an herb-blend and a squeeze of lemon to check off a fish and additional vegetable serving. Snack on fresh-cut vegetables paired with hummus to round-out your day!
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