Adding MIND to the Mix?

March 24, 2015 in Food and the Brain, Health, Mediterranean by Joyce Bunderson

Last week I wrote about the Mediterranean Diet (MD) and the DASH Diet (DD), both healthy eating styles. The day after putting that article up, I stumbled upon an article published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, about the new MIND diet. The authors of MIND hope it will prove to be a catchy acronym for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. Now while I like an acronym like MIND for using very good nutrition to delay the terrible degeneration that comes to many people’s brains, few will probably remember much about the complex terms underneath the acronym. Call it what you will, sign me up (along with millions of others, who would like to delay or skip Alzheimer’s and/or other forms of dementia.)

Presently, more than 5 million people in the US are living with Alzheimer’s; and the expectation is that the number will rise to as many as 16 million by 2050. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the US; and more than two thirds of the Americans with Alzheimer’s are women. These statistics remind us that we should listen up, when the researchers learn anything that can help us avoid this terrible plague

Researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago developed the MIND diet; they found that it could significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, even for those who do not follow it precisely.

The good news is that the new research found that there was lower risk of Alzheimer’s with all three of the diets that they compared – MD, DD and MIND. So, if like me, you are not familiar with the MIND diet, you’re asking what’s involved. The big difference is the inclusion of berries – blueberries and strawberries, in particular. And another difference is that the nutritional epidemiologist and chief researcher of the paper, Martha Clare Morris, PhD claims that it is easier to follow than either the MD or the DD.

The precepts of the MIND diet are that there are ten ‘brain-healthy’ food groups to include; and five food groups that are considered ‘unhealthy’ – and should be limited. The healthy list includes: Green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. The ‘unhealthy’ group includes: red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast foods. The following are my observations and opinions – at a quick glance:

  • I really like the idea of separating green leafy vegetables from other vegetables. It reminds us that as we try to get a variety of vegetables, we should look at green leafy vegetables as especially important. My guess is, that if you’re striving to do either MD or DD (or a MD/DD like I suggested last week), you’re getting a variety of veggies. But it doesn’t hurt to remind a newbie to MD, DD or now, MIND, that a scoop of peas and carrots will not do the job for the day.
  • About the berries!!!! I love berries, and I don’t care if they’re black, blue, red or green. Love ‘em all! My view is, however, that we should not eschew all the other beauteous varieties of fruit. Just think of not being able to fit in melons; summer stone fruit (peaches, apricots, plums, cherries and nectarines); citrus fruits; apples and pears; pineapples, passion fruit; mangos, and papayas; dates and raisins; and one of my favorites figs. Oh sad day to learn we couldn’t or shouldn’t obtain any of those, especially the local ones, in their season. Exclude any of these and only have berries? Seriously? The MIND diet, not only wants to concentrate on berries; but especially blueberries and strawberries. Again, seriously? My guess is that some researcher realized that these two types of berries were especially nutritious and were also helpful against Alzheimer’s, and they may cost less and be more available than some of the other berries. Therefore, they chose to single them out. My prediction is that this will be over-ridden by better-designed research.

One of the joys of this modern life, for some of us, is the variety of fruit that we can now enjoy. The fact is that modern life also includes the freezer; and that means that we can enjoy frozen berries, figs, rhubarb, apricots, apples, and so on in many ways, including for us, our whole grain oatmeal breakfast, all winter long. The change to only berries instead of a variety of fruit that already includes them is one change that I think I will ‘pass’ on (as in – not do).

Remembering berries (if that is difficult for you) may be an easy change for an additional benefit. If you’re not presently enjoying berries year round, you may want to consider using frozen berries. They are less costly and available in large bags that are easy to pour from. Certainly, sprinkling blueberries on our cereal, Greek yogurt, whole grain pancakes, or dessert cup is easy as can be. Or making fresh strawberry sauce, as I’ve frequently touted, is also a nice addition to many foods. Making salad dressing with blended berries is yet another way to add berries to your eating-style. I don’t know a downside for including berries in the diet.

One idea that I have is to make a weekly schedule for berries like the one that is so often published for fish – having fish three times per week, and making at least one fish meal a fatty fish like salmon or tuna. For example, maybe you want your fruit to be berries two or three times per week. That seems to be a modest and easily doable goal.

  • All the other MIND ‘brain-healthy foods’ are included in the MD eating-style.
  • As related to fast food, I’m a little curious. Some slow restaurant foods are just as bad as fast foods. I’m thinking of how difficult it is for Dr. Grandpa and me to find food that fits our needs at so many restaurants. It is either salty enough to preserve fresh meat or fish for a month; loaded with saturated fat; no whole grains; vegetable servings the size of a garnish; and mostly meals based upon an extraordinarily large serving of animal protein. So I’d say, “Watch out for both fast and slow restaurant foods.”
  • I like the singling-out of sweets and pastries to cut back on and increasingly avoid. It’s great to bring to our attention that these foods are doing little to no good, and likely, significant harm for our minds and bodies. I also, like that they use the term ‘limited’ rather than ‘never ever again’ should you indulge in some special treat. Of course, you could easily live without a slice of “Aunt Lory’s special Lemon Meringue Pie” every spring. But would the quality of life be really great? Only you can make the decisions.

We know that some of the old research on the MD and DD diets also found benefits for protection against dementia. The creators of MIND were well aware of this research. So why wait to begin making changes to one of these related styles of eating?

So my idea of embracing a MD/DASH eating-style just got one more complication for optimal health; if this research pans out, that is. Of course, we will await more confirming evidence on the MIND before feeling as secure as we do with either the MD or DD eating-styles. This is simply based upon the years of evidence and research on MD and DD; and the relatively new research on the MIND diet. The bottom line is that any of the three eating styles is a far cry better than the Western/American eating style. The three eating-styles all embrace and plant-based diet – lots of vegetables, legumes, fruits and whole grains.

Certainly we don’t have answers to all the questions we might generate about the optimal eating style; but medical research is moving in the right direction. As for the public, each of us is part of the public, and only our decisions will lead us either to benefit or to stay in familiar ruts. There is no evidence for potential downside to making changes now – don’t wait – start now in making some healthy changes to your eating style. Your brain, heart and whole body can serve you better for longer if you make the changes. And this good food can be very yummy. Old jokes about bad-tasting food being associated with healthy food are being disproved all over our land as new ideas, recipes and choices become available.