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How Does the MIND Diet Protect Against Alzheimer's?

Can an experimental diet keep your brain healthy as you age? Nutrition Diva takes a closer look at the evidence to support the MIND diet.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
Episode #384

For 20 years, we’ve been recommending the DASH diet as a way to control high blood pressure—because studies have shown it to be extraordinarily effective. One key feature of the traditional DASH diet is that you consume low-fat and fat-free dairy products. However, it turns out that those who follow a DASH-like diet but replace low-fat dairy products with full-fat dairy products do just as well as those who stick to the low-fat dairy.  It appears that the 'low-fat dairy' part of the DASH prescription may have been unnecessary.

Which brings me back to Cheryl’s question: Is avoiding cheese really necessary in order to preserve our brain power?

What’s the Case Against Cheese?

According to the researchers, the reason that cheese (as well as butter and red meat) are limited in the MIND diet is because of their saturated fat content.  Some-- but not all--studies have found a positive association between saturated fat intake and dementia. In a recent review of 12 studies, only half found a positive relationship, 5 found no relationship, and 1 study actually found an inverse relationship: people who ate more saturated fat had a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s.

When it comes to preserving brain health, I would say that the case against cheese is pretty weak. In fact, the case against saturated fat, in general, as an agent of dementia appears to be fairly weak. I wouldn’t be surprised if a variation of the MIND diet which didn’t limit cheese performed just as well in a similar statistical analysis. (They could call it the Head Cheese Diet! )

What’s the Bottom Line on the MIND Diet?

The evidence for the MIND diet as a strategy to prevent dementia is still preliminary and my opinion on the recommendations is mixed. Here's how I'd break it down.

GREAT ADVICE

  • Eat more berries, vegetables, and leafy greens
  • Use olive oil as your primary source of fat
  • Eat legumes and nuts several times a week
  • Limit your intake of pastries and sweets

GOOD ADVICE BUT OPTIONAL

Eating fish at least once a week and enjoying one (ONE!) glass of red wine daily is also good advice. But if you don’t eat animals or drink alcohol, you shouldn’t lose a moment’s sleep over not following this part of the prescription

FEEL FREE TO IGNORE (PENDING BETTER EVIDENCE)

I very much doubt that it’s necessary to eat poultry twice a week or whole grains three times a day. And, Cheryl, you'll be glad to hear that, based on the current evidence, I don’t think that you need to give up cheese in order to keep your brain healthy.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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