15 simple diet tweaks that could cut your Alzheimer's risk

Want to preserve your brain health for the long run? Here are the 10 best foods to eat (plus five to avoid).

By Angela L. Murad

Have you heard of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet for high blood pressure or the Mediterranean diet for heart health? When it comes to protecting your brain health, a hybrid of the two eating styles may be best.

Dubbed the "MIND" diet, short for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, this eating pattern goes big on natural plant-based foods while limiting red meat, saturated fat and sweets. And observational studies suggest the diet can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by up to 53 percent as well as slow cognitive decline and improve verbal memory.

Researchers developed the diet by looking at the Mediterranean and DASH diets, then focusing on the foods with the most compelling findings in dementia prevention. Vegetables, especially leafy greens, rose to the top. In general, fruit didn't, though berries made the list.

Then researchers tracked detailed eating logs in an older adult population for an average of 4.5 years to uncover trends among the diets of those who developed dementia versus those who didn't. Their discovery: Older adults whose diets most closely resembled the pattern laid out in the MIND diet had brains as sharp as people 7.5 years younger. That's a substantial difference, since delaying dementia by just five years has been suggested to cut the cost and prevalence of the disease in half.

Want to see how your diet stacks up? Give yourself a point for each of the following MIND diet rules you typically follow in your life (up to a max of 15 points).

  • At least three servings of whole grains a day
  • Green leafy vegetables (such as salad) at least six times a week
  • Other vegetables at least once a day
  • Berries at least twice a week
  • Red meat less than four times a week
  • Fish at least once a week
  • Poultry at least twice a week
  • Beans more than three times a week
  • Nuts at least five times a week
  • Fried or fast food less than once a week
  • Mainly olive oil for cooking
  • Less than a tablespoon of butter or margarine a day
  • Less than a serving of cheese a week
  • Less than five pastries or sweets a week
  • One glass of wine or other alcoholic drink a day

While both the MIND and Mediterranean diets yield similar reductions in Alzheimer's risk, the MIND diet is more flexible, which may make it easier to follow for some Americans. For example, the Mediterranean diet recommends eating fish multiple days a week, which can be a challenge.

Another interesting takeaway: You don't have to have a perfect diet to benefit. While the adults in the study who followed the diet most closely (an average score of 9.6 points out of 15) saw the biggest drop in their Alzheimer's risk, the ones who scored in the middle (7.5 points) still cut their risk by over a third. Consider targeting just one or two of the habits above to improve your score — and your brain health.

Aug. 17, 2017 See more In-depth