Can you cut your Alzheimer’s risk by half?

Siski Green / 08 December 2015

Dietary changes can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 50%, say scientists.

Researchers from Rush University Medical Centre, USA, gathered data from years of research into what kinds of foods helped prevent brain disease or were linked with improving brain function over time, and then put together a special diet aimed at preventing Alzheimer’s.

Called the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention Neurodegenerative Delay), it is, in simple terms, an amalgamation of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which was designed to reduce the risk of hypertension.

Both have been found to show health benefits including reduced risk of heart attack and lower blood pressure, and there was some evidence that both diets might help protect the brain too.

Related: What's your risk of dementia?

The study, which was published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, found that those who stuck strictly to the diet reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 53%, compared to those who didn’t.

Interestingly, even those who didn’t adhere strictly to the diet experienced improvements of around 35% reduced risk if they tried to follow it. So find out how you can make the right changes to keep your risk as low as possible. 

Rethink your food groups

The MIND diet has 15 dietary ‘components’, which have been classified as positive or negative in terms of their effects on brain health. 

The GOOD food groups

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Other vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Berries
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Olive oil
  • Wine

The BAD food groups

  • Red meat
  • Butter/stick margarine
  • Cheese
  • Pastries/sweets
  • Fried/fast food

Keep a count of your servings

Ideally, you’ll eat three servings of whole grains, a salad and one other vegetable every day.

Whole grains include:

  • Wholewheat bread and pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Wild or brown rice
  • Soba noodles
  • Barley
  • Oats

You should also try to eat beans every other day, and have a glass of wine daily.

Fish should be eaten at least once a week and chicken twice a week.

For snacks, you’ll have nuts and berries to pick at as you need nuts most days, and berries at least twice a week. 

A typical day's food on the MIND diet

So a day’s food might contain a breakfast of porridge (oats providing one wholegrain serving), lunch of wholewheat toast with a salad and for dinner, wholewheat pasta/quinoa/barley/wild or brown rice with fish or chicken, and broccoli/some other vegetable. 

Another example would be, wholewheat toast for breakfast, a lunch of brown rice with fish for lunch, a handful of nuts in the afternoon, and in the evening a hearty bean soup with tomatoes and courgettes, for example.

And let’s not forget that glass of wine. 

Added to that, you can eat some of the BAD foods but need to keep a limit to it. So only one tablespoon of butter per day, and only one serving of cheese, fried food or fast food per week.

Remember that variety is important

You might have noticed that there are no fruits aside from berries in the MIND diet. Similarly, yogurt isn’t mentioned. Both are considered to be healthy foods.

The main reason they weren’t included is because fruits, other than berries, haven’t been scientifically linked to improved brain health.

Similarly yogurt hasn’t been linked with better brain health either. That doesn’t mean they aren’t healthy, it just means that eating more fruit than vegetables, or yogurt instead of wholegrains, for example, may not have the same effects as the MIND diet. 

The MIND diet in one sentence

Aim for more servings of wholegrains and vegetables, fish and chicken, nuts and berries, and reduce the serving size or the frequency at which you eat butter, cheese, red meat, anything with sugar in it, as well as fried or fast food. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.