Leafy Greens and Berries Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease
Health and Wellness
April 30, 2015
by guest columnist Elizabeth Pivonka, Ph.D., R.D., President & CEO, Produce for Better Health Foundation
If you could follow a type of diet that would reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s by over 50 percent, would you? A study published in the February 2015 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia demonstrated a protective effect of a diet that emphasizes leafy greens and berries against Alzheimer’s disease in aging adults.1
What The Research Shows
The Rush Memory and Aging Project followed over 900 men and women ages 58 to 98 from 2004 and 2013. Throughout the duration of the study, participants answered a 144-item food and beverage questionnaire and underwent 19 mental skill tests every few years. No dietary intervention was required to participate; participants simply answered questions about their dietary habits.
Researchers discovered that older adults whose diets conformed most closely to a diet called the MIND diet were much less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who only moderately followed the diet. The dedicated followers saw their risk of Alzheimer’s drop by a whopping 53 percent! Participants who followed the diet “moderately well” still benefitted greatly: their risk for Alzheimer’s still dropped by roughly 35 percent.
The study looked at factors other than diet to determine how much of an impact other lifestyle habits might potentially enhance or detract from the protective effect of the MIND diet. Smoking history, exercise and physical activity habits, level of education, mentally challenging activities (such as crossword puzzles) and a history of obesity, depression or heart disease were all added to the picture.2 Regardless of lifestyle or other factors, this study found that the MIND diet offered protection whether or not other healthy behaviors or health conditions were present.2 This means that no matter what, following the MIND diet can lower your risk of Alzheimer’s.
A Closer Look: The Mind Diet
The MIND diet is a blend of two diets you may have heard of before: the Mediterranean and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet is easier to follow than the others because it is relatively simple in comparison.
Similar to the Mediterranean and DASH diets, the MIND diet emphasizes plant-based foods and the limited consumption of animal and high saturated fat foods (cheese, butter, pastries) but uniquely specifies the consumption of berries and green leafy vegetables. It does not, however, specify high fruit (three to four servings each day), dairy, or fish consumption like the other two diets.
The MIND diet has 15 key dietary components, 10 of which are “brain-healthy” groups:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Other vegetables
- Whole grains
- Olive oil
The five unhealthy groups are:
- Red meats
- Butter and margarine
- Pastries and sweets
- Fried foods
To follow the diet, one would need to consume three servings of whole grains, a green leafy vegetable, one other vegetable and a glass of wine pretty much every day. One would also need to be snacking on nuts most days, eating beans every other day or so, eating poultry and berries at least twice a week and eating fish at least once a week. Finally, only very limited amounts of butter (less than one tablespoon a day), cheese and fried foods (less than a serving per week) would be consumed.2
The Bottom Line
Every person has a different goal or outcome in mind and a specific idea of their ideal healthy self. It’s easy to get lost in the latest headlines toting the “too-good-to-be-true!” health benefits of the latest fad diet. We all have goals, but whether it’s attempting to lose weight, stave off Alzheimer’s disease, or protect against heart disease, you can never go wrong by increasing your intake of a colorful variety of fruits and veggies like leafy greens and berries! The easiest way eat more veggies everyday is to fill half your plate with fruits and veggies during every meal and snack!
1. MC Morris, CC Tangney, W Yang, FM Sacks, DA Bennett, NT Aggawal. MIND diet associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s & Dementia. 2015 (1-8). View here.
2. Could a Diet Help Shield You from Alzheimer’s? Medline Plus. 2015. View here.