Balanced nutrition concept for clean eating flexitarian mediterranean diet.

Did your mother ever say “you have to eat your vegetables”? Well, she was right; you should definitely eat your greens – and you should make sure she eats hers too.

In recent years, increasing evidence suggests that diet may play an important role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Scientists are now beginning to work out the details of what such a diet looks like.

You’ve probably heard of Mediterranean diet for years, based on its known heart health benefits. But as the saying goes, “What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.”

Multiple studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced risk of dementia. That’s because healthy habits (including regular exercise) that keep arteries clear allow more blood to flow to both the heart and brain, nourishing both organs.

The MIND diet

The UM diet is the (relatively) new kid on the block. It is a mixture of the Mediterranean diet and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. The acronym MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (which makes you thankful for acronyms, right?). And the evidence is strong that it can delay the onset of dementia.

(Credit: Antonina Vlasova/Shutterstock) A balanced meal concept for the DASH flexitarian Mediterranean diet for clean eating to stop hypertension and low blood pressure.

According to David Geldmacher, neuroscientist and director of the Division of Memory Disorders at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Heersink School of Medicine, the evidence is strong because of its consistency. Multiple studies, he says, have supported not only its role in slowing the progression of cognitive decline, but also in improving cognitive performance in some people.

Read more: The 4 main types of dementia

Diet and dementia research

But the mechanisms involved in achieving these results are not known. However, a recent study shed some light on this. The researchers examined the brains of 581 people who participated in the Memory and Aging Project at Chicago’s Rush University.

Volunteers have agreed to donate their brains to dementia research after they die. Before death, they provided current details of their diets. The researchers linked the number of neurofibrillary plaques and tangles in their brains (hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease) to the foods they ate in the years before they died.

Mediterranean diet for Alzheimer’s

The results showed that people who adhered the most to the Mediterranean diet had fewer plaques and nodules in their brains – in fact, the number of plaques and nodules in their brains was similar to the number found in people 18 years younger of the people who stick to the diet the least.

There were similar results for the MIND diet. There, the number of plaques and tangles in the people who adhered most strictly to the diet was similar to that found in someone 12 years younger than those who adhered least to the diet.

The fact that this study looked at the specific pathology of Alzheimer’s suggests that these dietary approaches have an independent beneficial effect on the brain beyond improving circulation, according to Geldmacher.

Read more: Is the Mediterranean Diet Healthy?

Foods that fight dementia

It is impressive, even inspiring. But even if total prevention of dementia is not possible now, at least there are dietary steps we can take to delay its onset. The question is: What specifically would an Alzheimer’s prevention diet looks like?

Well, for one thing, it will be a lot green. When the researchers got down to specific foods, they found that people who ate the most leafy greens — seven or more servings a week — had plaque levels similar to those in the brains of someone 19 years younger than people who ate one or fewer servings per week.

Other foods that fight memory loss

But greens aren’t the only foods that fight memory loss. Both diets recommend large amounts of vegetables and fruits and three or more servings of fish per week. The MIND diet calls for three servings of whole grains daily, lots of berries and beans, and plenty of other vegetables.

Still, the greens take top honors. Why green? According to Geldmacher, this is likely due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of these foods. However, he adds that some of it could be due to “replacement”. If you load up on vegetables, which are full of fiber and therefore satiating, you’re likely to eat less unhealthy foods like fried foods and sweets.

There is very little downside to this dietary approach, and the benefits can be huge. However, because of the amount of grains required, Geldmacher points out that people with diabetes should be careful to make sure they stay within carbohydrate limits.

Although there is no miracle food to prevent dementia, good food can often do wonders.

Read more: TikTok is responsible for misinformation about the Mediterranean diet, a new study suggests

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