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Dementia and the MIND diet

By Robert Israel, M.D., F.A.C.P.

“Doc, what can I do to prevent dementia? Watching my mother-in-law go through it is terrible.” This is a question that I hear every day or one like it. When one reaches a certain age it becomes a real concern. Dementia is certainly a life-altering disease, and its effects on families are at least as bad as on the person afflicted. The effects are not only physical, mental and spiritual, but in addition, caring for someone with dementia can be financially crushing.

The good news is that while there are precious few effective treatments and those are ridiculously expensive (costs frequently exceed any benefits), there are some proven preventative steps one can take to reduce the risk of memory loss. Movement, exercise, and walking help. Walking 30 minutes five days a week reduces risk by about 30%, and that is true for other exercise as well.

It turns out that what you eat makes a big difference too. Food really is medicine. A dietary style based on a combination of two healthy eating styles, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, called the MIND diet can reduce dementia risk by over 50%! Now that is effective medicine and the cost-benefit ratio is excellent.

We will visit the MIND diet more fully in future blog posts, but basically it emphasizes plant-based whole foods, avoiding sugar and highly processed foods, and emphasizes lots of green leafy vegetables, beans, berries, whole grains, nuts, fish, and poultry. A glass of wine daily is a part of the diet as well.

No one wants to eat food that tastes bad, but this diet is one that people in Greece, Italy, southern France, the U.S. South, and other havens of great cooking eat at home. It is delicious and nutrient-laden food.

MIND diet

The MIND diet is delicious, nutritious and inexpensive to boot. It involves eating 10 foods in particular and avoiding five others as much as possible. The 10 specific foods to push include green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, whole grains, other vegetables, olive oil, fish, poultry, beans, and a glass of wine daily. The five to avoid or reduce are butter and margarine (less than a tablespoon daily), pastries and sweets, red meat (less than four servings a week), cheese, and fried or fast foods. It emphasizes whole, plant-based foods and avoids processed foods, as do many other healthy diets.

Specifically, green leafy vegetables are recommended six or more times weekly, beans four or more times weekly, nuts five or more times weekly, other vegetables daily, olive oil as the main cooking oil, whole grains three servings daily, berries at least twice a week, chicken two or more times a week, fish one or more times weekly, and a glass of wine daily if desired.

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