For years the Mediterranean Diet has been linked to lower risks of heart disease, cancer and mortality; and now, research suggests that this diet, as well as other similar heart healthy diets, may contribute to lower risk of developing dementia in healthy older adults.
New research being presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London this week found healthy older adults who followed the Mediterranean Diet or the similar MIND Diet ( Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) lowered their risk of dementia by a third.
The research, which included 6,000 adults with an average age of 68 years, found that those who consistently followed a diet known to improve cardiovascular health, such as the Mediterranean Diet or Dash Diet (Dietary Approached to Stop Hypertension), were more likely to maintain cognitive health in the later stage of life. The study also cited the MIND Diet, which is a relatively new diet that is quickly gaining recognition for its potential to reduce dementia risk in older adults by preserving cognitive function.
The Mind Diet was created by Martha Clare Morris, a nutritional epidemiologist at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center. This diet encourages eating from 10 healthy food groups, while rejecting foods from five unhealthy food groups, including red meats, cheese, butter and margarine, fried or fast food, and sweets. Instead, Mind Dieters eat at least six servings of green leafy vegetables (think kale, chard, spinach, etc.) per week, along with at least three servings of beans, two or more servings of berries, two servings of chicken or turkey, and one serving of fish each week. 3 servings of whole grains are also included daily (oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, etc.), along with an additional vegetable serving of the dieter’s choice. Olive oil is a recipe staple and a glass of red wine per day is highly encouraged.
Similarly, the Mediterranean Diet focuses on plant-based eating with the majority of meals comprised of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds, nuts & extra virgin olive oil. Eggs, poultry & dairy are included, but in smaller portions than in the traditional Western Diet. Meat is used sparingly, mostly to flavor dishes; and refined sugars and fats other than olive oil, such as butter and margarine, are limited if used at all. Fish is a staple in this diet.
Researchers found that those participants strictly adhering to the MIND Diet or Mediterranean Diet had a 30-35% lower risk of developing cognitive deficits in older healthy adults. So while you may be feeling a bit disappointed about some of the foods on the “unhealthy list,” it’s important to note that those who only marginally followed the diet also benefited, and were 18% less likely to develop cognitive impairment.
While this research is fairly new, experts agree that there is no harm in implementing heart healthy diet changes that may improve cognitive function later in life. So pop open the bottle of red and enjoy the rest of your Friday night.
By: Mallory Spinelli, RD