Nutrition may be an important modifiable risk factor in the strategy to prevent or delay the onset of dementia and other forms of cognitive decline. Previous research emphasized the role of individual nutrients, but recent years have seen a shift in focus toward more holistic dietary patterns and their link to neurological health.
In 1993, the Chicago Health and Aging Project, or CHAP, began as an observational study of risk factors impacting cognitive decline and dementia, including eating patterns. Nutrition factors continue to be a point of study in the ongoing CHAP, though, researchers have already begun to publish results from the more than 30 years of data that have been collected to-date. The results so far have reflected that specific dietary patterns may have the potential to lower the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. The researchers developed the MIND diet, which stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, because of their findings.
The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating patterns. The two eating patterns have some differences, but share many similarities:
- Traditional Mediterranean diets consist primarily of whole, minimally processed foods including non-refined grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts and fish. Small amounts of meat, eggs and dairy products, and a modest amount of alcohol, may be included.
- The DASH Eating Plan emphasizes fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. It includes whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts but is limited in fat (specifically saturated fat), red meat, sodium, foods with added sugars and sugar-sweetened beverages.
The MIND diet combines these approaches by encouraging many of the plant-based foods recommended in the Mediterranean diet and DASH eating plan, as well as fish and poultry. It also shares the recommendation to limit saturated fats and added sugars. The factors that differentiate the MIND diet are the focus on daily and weekly recommendations for specific foods and food groups.
Food Frequency Specifics
- Vegetables: 2 or more servings per day; at least one serving of leafy green vegetable per day
- Berries: 2 to 5 servings per week, minimum; not including dried berries
- Whole grains: 3 or more servings per day; emphasis on grains that are minimally processed
- Nuts and seeds: 5 or more servings per week; includes peanuts
- Beans: 3 to 4 servings per week, minimum
- Seafood: 1 or more serving per week; focus on fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring or sardines
- Poultry: 2 or more servings per week; focus on light meat without skin
- Extra-virgin olive oil: 2 tablespoons per day; specifically extra-virgin olive oil, not other types of olive or vegetable oils
There is a strong emphasis on what foods to consume on the MIND diet. However, there also are several categories of food that individuals are encouraged to limit: red and processed meats, sources of saturated fats such as butter and margarine, full-fat cheese, refined grains, dessert-type foods or other sources of added sugars and fried foods.
Research suggests the risk of Alzheimer's disease may be reduced by as much as 53% when individuals adhere to the MIND diet consistently, and by about 35% when followed moderately well. More research is needed to confirm these results, however, following this dietary pattern seems to be a promising strategy to help reduce cognitive decline and offers a variety of nutrients that are beneficial for overall health.
- Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2015 Feb 11. pii: S1552-5260(15)00017-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2014.11.009.
- Wengreen H, Munger RG, Cutler A, Quach A, Bowles A, Corcoran C, Tschanz JT, Norton MC, Welsh-Bohmer KA. Prospective study of Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and Mediterranean-style dietary patterns and age-related cognitive change: the Cache County Study on Memory, Health and Aging. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Nov;98(5):1263-71.
- Di Fiore N. Diet May Help Prevent Alzheimer's: MIND diet rich in vegetables, berries, whole grains, nuts. Rush University Medical Center website. Published March 16, 2015. Accessed February 6, 2023.
- Morris MC, Morris L. Diet for the MIND: The Latest Science for What to Eat to Prevent Alzheimer's and Cognitive Decline. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group; 2017.
- Ventrelle J, De la Monte S. Nutrition and Neurological Health: Understanding the Link Between Diet and Cognitive Decline. FNCE® 2023.
Join the Academy
Members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics receive exciting benefits including complimentary continuing professional education opportunities, discounts on events and products in eatrightSTORE.org, invitations to exclusive members-only events and more!