There has been a lot written in recent years about the benefits of eating a Mediterranean diet for weight loss, heart health and a longer life expectancy. But increasingly researchers are finding that these diets may be an effective way of actually lowering the risk or slowing the development of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. In a 2018 study, researchers with the National Institutes of Health found as much as a three-and-a-half-year delay in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in people who have eaten a Mediterranean diet for many years.
Our July edition of Brookdale’s Optimum Life Continuing Education series focuses on Fighting Dementia with Food and how MIND and Mediterranean diets may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. While there is no single definition of the ‘Mediterranean diet,’ it is a way of eating based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Mediterranean diets are based around vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and olive oil and are much lower than Western diets in the intake of red meats, sweets and processed foods. Americans typically consume beef five of six times a week, while the Mediterranean diets put a much higher emphasis on fish as a source of protein and recommends only one or two servings of beef per week.
The MIND diet takes two proven diets – DASH and Mediterranean – and zeroes in on the foods in each that specifically affect brain health. The MIND diet which stands for, Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, was developed by Martha Clare Morris, a nutritional epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Center. The diet focuses on adhering to the healthy eating principals of the Mediterranean diet, but also focuses on consuming 10 brain healthy foods (whole grains, veggies, leafy greens, nuts, beans, berries, poultry, fish olive oil and wine) and avoiding the 5 brain harming foods (butter and stick margarine, whole fat cheese, fried fast foods, red meat, pastries and sweets). Although there is no certain way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, initial research suggests eating healthful mainstays such as leafy greens, nuts and berries and avoiding the brain-harming foods may lower a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s by as much as 53%!
Our guest this month on Brookdale’s Optimum Life Continuing Education is Sara Casey, Brookdale’s Director of Nutrition. Sara is a certified specialist in gerontological nutrition with a strong background in nutrition care management for older adults. During our conversation, Sara defined the key components of eating a MIND or Mediterranean diet and provided four simple steps to gradually adopt these healthier diets:
- Start slow and make small positive changes. If you try to make drastic changes to your diet it almost invariable leads to failure. Crash diets just don’t work. But by gradually adopting healthy habits, it becomes a lifestyle change you can sustain over the long haul.
- Cook and eat at home more often. We all know the portions sizes in restaurants are typically HUGE. By eating at home you can control the portion size on the plate and ensure you’re using healthy oils and fresh ingredients so your food is prepared in accordance with Mediterranean cooking methods.
- Replace sugary beverages with flavored waters. This is a big one. Sugary soda drinks or processed juices contain empty calories and unhealthy amounts of carbohydrates that lead to weight gain. By replacing these drinks with water you’ll start feeling better and find it easier to control your weight, not to mention the benefits for brain health.
- Build your diet around healthy vegetables (not meat). Have a vegetarian meal 1-2 times per week. You can also make sure to include two healthy servings of fresh vegetables in every meal. Build on this momentum of eating more fresh vegetables by adopting one new healthy habit per week and before you know it you will be eating a brain-healthy diet.
Sara also helped explain the relationship between food and brain health and how MIND and Mediterranean diets help to boost antioxidants, increase healthy fats and lower inflammation, all of which are crucial to brain health as we age. If you’d like to learn more and listen in on the conversation, you can attend a session of: Fighting Dementia with FOOD: MIND and Mediterranean Diets. Just send a request to register for the session by visiting our Optimum Life Continuing Education page.