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MIND The Diet To Prevent Dementia And Other Brain Disorders

Embrace the MIND diet this year for its eating pattern that shows the protective effects of certain foods specifically tied to brain health.

Medha Dutta Yadav

Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay or MIND diet may be quite a mouthful, but to sum up, it follows the key principles of the Mediterranean and DASH diets to reduce one’s risk of dementia and other symptoms relating to cognitive decline. The MIND diet is garnering a lot of attention this year for its eating pattern that shows the protective effects of certain foods specifically tied to brain health. This particular eating plan was developed by nutrition researcher Martha Clare Morris, PhD, and her colleagues at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

The MIND diet comprises two main components—Mediterranean diet and DASH diet. We all know that a Mediterranean diet is a diet focused on a healthy heart and cardio. It’s based on healthy plant-based proteins and fats and ensures good cardiovascular health for people who do this diet. DASH diet is a dietary programme, focused on lowering the blood pressure of a person. It works on the principle of including such foods in the diet, which will help keep a person’s blood pressure under control, and promote cardiovascular health in return. Merging the two makes good dietary sense.

Nutritionist Preety Tyagi, founder of MY22BMI—a digital healthcare startup—says, “MIND diet is focused towards improving the brain function of the body. It was created to help prevent dementia and support brain health with ageing. It basically, is a diet that comprises foods that improve the nervous system and brain health in the body.”

Best bet for those over 50

The diet is particularly well-suited to anyone approaching the age or over the age of 50. It supports brain health while also reducing the risk of chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Sakshi Bakshi, the founder of Delhi-NCR-based Nucros Science and Taste that brings calculated tasty and healthy meals right to your doorstep, devises diet meal plans for consumers, with DNA-based diet meals etc.  

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Talking of the feasibility of MIND diet, she says, “MIND diet is a workable diet because it is based on fresh produce or on how our ancestors used to eat so having a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and limiting processed foods that have a lot of sugar in it. Also, it’s based on a multigrain diet which directly improves heart health. It is great for blood pressure.”

There are limitations on the intake of high-fat items such as red meat, cheese, butter, as also limitations on salt and certain fruits. The diet encourages consuming a lot of berries, nuts, whole grain, omega, leafy greens.  

What works

The diet reduces chronic inflammation. We all know inflammation can wreak havoc on vital organs and is linked to even diseases such as cancer, heart ailment, depression, and diabetes. Since it incorporates plant-based foods such as leafy greens, berries, nuts and seeds, the diet is packed with polyphenols and other compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties. Bakshi says, “Older adults who follow the MIND diet have a 53 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.” The foods included in this diet are naturally rich in antioxidants, and so help reduce oxidative stress that may lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease. 

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Delhi-based clinical nutritionist Lovneet Batra says, “Research supports MIND diet with slower cognitive decline and has shown it may build cognitive resilience in older adults independent of age-related brain pathologies. With consumption of complex carbs that take longer to digest and therefore don’t spike blood sugar levels, it helps in maintaining balanced blood sugar.” A 2020 study discovered that plant-based diets can rev up your metabolism, triggering an 18.7 percent increase in calories burned after a meal. This ends up adding to weight loss.

Besides better mental clarity, another cognitive change one may experience is improved mental health. This is because; the very same foods are scientifically linked to reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Though it is a fact that diet alone cannot reduce or help in treating dementia. It does go a long way, experts say. “Many foods—which are a part of the MIND diet—help in growth and regeneration of brain cells. As in the case with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, these food help to maintain a well-balanced brain health. Of course, diagnosis and medication is also needed in such cases, but diet is important too,” adds Batra.

Easy to follow

With its focus on the consumption of green leafy vegetables, legumes, berries, nuts, whole grains and fish, MIND diet can be easily incorporated into traditional Indian households. At the same time, it is economical too since the options are limitless and also cutting down consumption of processed foods that can increase inflammation in the body—which means less eating out. One can also localise the meal plan. “For example, you don’t need to source exotic ingredients (such as frozen berries). Instead, use locally available options with similar nutritional profile (pomegranate/jamun/phalsa),” says Batra. 

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Also, the diet is not super-restrictive. Given a large number of beneficial food items, there’s absolutely no shortage of meals when sticking to the diet. There’s something to suit every taste preference. The trick is to start small—maybe a week-long plan to see how well you can incorporate the MIND diet into your lifestyle. Also, experts stress one shouldn’t be hung upon strictly following the diet and being a perfectionist. Every diet allows for some cheating every now and then. There are also countless recipes online to aid with satiating the tastebuds while adhering to the meal plan. 

Foods to include in MIND diet

  1. Green leafy vegetables: It is recommended to have at least six servings daily of green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and cooked greens. A combination of both cooked and raw greens must be included in the diet to have the best benefits. 
  2. Olive oil: Replace all cooking oils with olive oil while following this diet. A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial) in Australia suggests olive oil may be helpful in combatting depression. After 12 weeks, nearly a third of those who underwent the prescribe olive oil diet experienced remission from the depression. Olive oil is slowly finding acceptance in Indian lifestyle too.
  3. Have a rainbow full of vegetables all throughout the day. The more vegetables you have, the better will be your diet. 
  4. Berries: All types of berries must be a part of your diet and at least twice a week, for example, rasbhari, phalse, shahtoot, ber, karonda, etc. 
  5. Nuts: Try to include at least five servings of different types of nuts in your daily diet. Nuts play a major role in enhancing brain function of the body. 
  6. Whole grains: Consume at least three servings every day of whole grains in your daily diet. Such as oatmeal, quinoa, millets, buckwheat etc. 
  7. Beans and legumes: Include beans such as soybean, lentils, all beans in at least five meals every week.
  8. Fish: Go for more fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, catla, hilsa, giant prawns, bhetki, climbing perch, catfish etc in at least two meals a week.
  9. Poultry: Try to consume chicken or turkey, or even wild fowl and quail in at least three meals a week. Eggs should be a part of your meals too. 
  10. Wine: Wine, both red and white, is considered good to enhance brain function. Try not to exceed more than one glass a day. 

Foods to Avoid

  • Avoid food that is not freshly prepared
  • Don’t reheat or store cooked food for long as it changes the antioxidant properties of the ingredients 
  • Don’t eat for the heck of eating
  • Avoid using foods with preservatives, refined oils, refined flours and artificial sweeteners.
  • Butter or Margarine: Best to be replaced with olive oil wherever possible.
  • Deep-fried foods are not recommended at all
  • Limit the use of cheese in your diet to less than once a week. Having as little as possible is the key.
  • Red Meat: Aim for no more than two servings a week. 
  • Processed foods, sweets etc: Must be avoided at all costs. 
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