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Food for Thought

Food for Thought
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Fall 2019
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Studies have shown that heart-healthy eating habits may help reduce risk of cognitive decline.

We are constantly reminded to eat well to achieve heart health, lose weight or ward off diseases like cancer. But we often ignore the brain — our most complex organ — when making choices about what to put in our mouths. Just like the rest of the body, the brain is impacted by what we consume and it’s important we feed it well. 

While scientists don’t yet fully understand the complex relationship between nutrition and the brain, studies have shown that heart-healthy eating habits may help reduce risk of cognitive decline.

“Although the idea that a heart-healthy diet may help protect against cognitive decline as we age is not new, it is extremely significant,” says Rebecca Edelmayer, Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Association director of Scientific Engagement. “Research continues to demonstrate how powerful good dietary practices may be in maintaining brain function.” 

While more research is needed to understand how food can help support the brain, there is growing evidence around several diets indicating they may be able to positively impact cognition. Ongoing research studies are currently evaluating these diets.
 

DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension)

What it is: Developed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes, conditions that have also been shown to increase cognitive decline. 

What to eat: 
  • Heavy consumption of fruits; vegetables; whole grains; nuts, seeds and legumes; lean meats, fish and poultry; and low- or non-fat dairy. 
  • Little consumption of sweets and sodium. 
What we know: Research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® (AAIC®) indicated that the DASH diet was positively associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline in older individuals.
 

Mediterranean diet

Lifestyle factors may impact the brain

The Alzheimer's Association-led U.S. POINTER study is a first-of-its-kind clinical trial to evaluate whether lifestyle interventions that simultaneously target many risk factors protect cognitive function in older adults at increased risk for cognitive decline.

Learn More
What it is: Incorporates different aspects of healthy eating that are typically found in the areas bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

What to eat:
  • Focus on fruit, vegetables, nuts and grains.
  • Replace butter with healthy fats like olive oil.
  • Limit red meat.
  • Use herbs to flavor food rather than salt.
  • Eat fish and poultry at least twice a week.
What we know: Published studies suggest that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with slower cognitive decline and lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
 

MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay)

What it is: A hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH diets. 

What to eat: 
  • Emphasis on berries and green leafy vegetables, as well as other vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. 
  • Avoid red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried and fast food. 
What we know: A 2015 study found that participants who strictly followed the MIND diet experienced a 53% reduction in risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Those who moderately adhered to the diet had a 35% reduction in risk. Another study currently being conducted with more than 600 senior adults in Chicago and Boston will test the MIND diet’s impact on cognitive decline.
 

ALZ: A magazine of the Alzheimer's Association

ALZ magazine shares inspiration and information about the fight to end Alzheimer’s — and offers tips on how to make your brain the focus of a healthy lifestyle. Want in on the next issue? Sign up here.

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