Preventing Alzheimer's: How to eat on the MIND diet

You’ve probably heard about the Mediterranean diet— an eating plan that emphasizes consuming vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, fish, poultry, olive oil, and even wine in moderation—that has been shown to improve weight and even cardiovascular health. What may not have popped up on your radar yet is the MIND diet, which derives from the Mediterranean diet and shares many of its characteristics, including the ability to help reduce Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study compares how following three different diets— the Mediterranean diet, the MIND diet, and the popular DASH diet— can affect Alzheimer’s risk. The research followed nearly 1,000 senior men and women for about five years. Those who followed the Mediterranean diet saw the biggest benefit, with a 54 percent reduced risk of developing the disease, followed by the MIND diet, whose followers saw a 53 percent reduced risk, and the DASH diet users, who saw a 39 percent reduced risk. Those results were independent of factors like age, sex, physical activity or obesity.

The findings suggest that even modest changes like incorporating fruits and nuts over sweetened and refined energy bars for snacks, or an occasional fresh fish entrée with a side of leafy green vegetables, can mitigate some of the scourges associated with the modern Western diet. With appropriately less emphasis on the simply caloric constituents of our diet, we can be mindful of the fallacy of the calorie— and mindful well into our senior years.

But reaping the benefits of these dietary changes depends heavily on adherence, the study suggests. Participants who could not closely follow the DASH or Mediterranean diet didn’t see a decreased chance of developing Alzheimer’s, but those who followed the MIND diet still saw a 35 percent risk reduction. Still, the Mediterranean diet appeared to be the easiest for users to follow,  with an adherence rate of about 57 percent, compared to 49 percent for the MIND diet and only 41 percent for the DASH diet.

That difference may depend on the dietary restrictions, and the ease with which users can follow them, of each eating plan. While the DASH approach imposes limits on daily consumption of calories, saturated fat and sodium, the MIND diet and Mediterranean diet don’t restrict classes of food, ingredients or the like. Consequently, these approaches appear to rank significantly higher in adherence compared to the DASH diet. Being able to follow the dietary guidelines suggested by any given method is critical: After all, Diets are useless if their recommendations are so unpalatable as to be intolerable.

The main way in which the MIND diet differs from the Mediterranean diet is that it emphasizes consumption of leafy greens and berries. A typical day following this way of eating is a dizzyingly delicious exploration of varied flavors and contrasting textures.

For those interested in trying the MIND diet, here’s a taste:

Poached Pears Topped with Frumenty, Dried Fruit and Nuts

A sample breakfast may include frumenty with nuts, fruit and kefir or yogurt served in a poached pear. Frumenty from the Mediterranean region is often made from boiling cracked bulgur durum wheat. This whole grain is served in a poached pear and additional fresh or dried fruits can be mixed in. The addition of kefir or yogurt brings the benefits of probiotics, while nuts add the healthful balance of fats common to the Mediterranean and MIND diets. The final product is a mouth-watering, hearty blend of crunchy, toasted nut flavors accentuated by mild fruit sweetness, which is surprisingly light on the palate.

Citrus Poached Shrimp Couscous Salad

A lunch dish consisting of citrus poached shrimp and couscous salad introduces the seafood component, common to both diets while emphasizing the leafy green vegetables encouraged in the MIND regimen and associated with neurocognitive preservation. Using Israeli or Mediterranean couscous with quinoa assures that highly refined wheat products like white bread, which are eschewed by both diets, are replaced by grain and seed choices high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. The delicate citrus kissed shrimp marries beautifully with the crisp, leafy greens by the application of a fine extra-virgin olive oil. The couscous and quinoa provide a slightly earthy and nutty framework to support this ethereal union.

Lemon Rosemary Pressed Chicken with Honey Mustard Greens and Lentils

The rosemary and lemon pressed chicken captures the Mediterranean roots of both programs. The chicken is marinated with herbs and spices as opposed to layer upon layer of sugar, salt and fat found in the modern Western diet. The poultry, beans and olive oil, also staples of both approaches, are served with the leafy greens specifically targeted in the MIND diet. Paired with the perfect wine this meal is the epitome of how delectable food can feed the body as well as the soul.

Honey Barley Fruit Tartlets

By serving the dessert as a small tartlet, there is built-in portion control. The 2,000-year-old recipe for honey barley cakes delivers more whole grains for dessert. Berries macerated with honey and wine provide that extra serving of ingredients uniquely highlighted by the MIND diet for their potency in preventing neurodegenerative decline. The only challenge with such a dessert, indeed with such a menu, is in limiting the servings! Food for thought, and preservation of thought, never tasted so good.

Michael S. Fenster, M.D., is a Board Certified Interventional Cardiologist and has published original cardiovascular research that has appeared in peer reviewed scientific and medical journals. He is the author of, “The Fallacy of the Calorie: Myths, Misdirections and Machinations of The Modern Western Diet,” which was a follow-up to his first book, “Eating Well, Living Better: The Grassroots Gourmet Guide to Good Health and Great Food.” Dr. Mike has served as a teacher, thought leader and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the North East Ohio University College of Medicine. He received his culinary degree in gourmet cooking and catering from Ashworth University.