MIND Diet for Healthy Brain Aging

The MIND diet was created with the goal of healthy brain aging. This nutrition plan, which is backed up by years of scientific research, details 10 food groups you should incorporate into your diet and five foods that you should limit. Guest: Martha Clare Morris, ScD, Professor of Epidemiology, Rush University Medical Center, and co-creator of the MIND Diet

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dr martha clare morris
Dr Martha Clare Morris


Intro: Welcome to Dementia Matters, a podcast created by the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Disease Research Center. It's our goal to humanize Alzheimer's research so that our community, our patients, our participants and anyone else interested, can get a better understanding of the work that's happening to fight back against this disease. My name is Nathaniel Chin and I'm a geriatric and memory clinic physician at the University of Wisconsin. I'm also the family member of someone living with dementia. I'll be serving as your host for this podcast and asking the questions I believe on the minds of many in our community. Thanks for joining us.

Chin: Today, I'm speaking with Dr. Martha Clare Morris, professor of epidemiology at Rush University and the creator of the MIND diet and nutrition plan that focuses on the impacts of particular foods on brain health. Dr. Morris has been studying the connection between Alzheimer's disease and diet for over 20 years, and we're lucky enough to be able to sit down and talk with her about all of this today. With that, I would like to welcome Dr. Martha Clare Morris to Dementia Matters. Well, so then let's start with what is the MIND Diet? 

Clare Morris: We created the MIND diet when we were about to seek funding to do a randomized control clinical trial of a diet to lower one's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. And we at first were going to use the Mediterranean diet, but then it occurred to me why would I ignore 20 years of research into the foods and nutrients that we knew were important for the brain. So the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diets are both very well-rounded diets that have been vigorously tested and shown to be important for keeping one healthy, especially from cardiovascular conditions. So we modified the basic components of the Mediterranean and the Dash diets to incorporate the nutrients that we knew were important for the brain. So that's why we call it the MIND diet, the Mediterranean Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. That's quite a mouthful. 

Chin: Now, could you tell us specifically what that diet entails? 

Clare Morris: There's 10 food groups that we recommend people to incorporate, and then there's five foods that are not so brain healthy that we suggest people limit. Not necessarily take out of the diet, but reduce those foods. So among the healthy food groups are extra virgin olive oil, green leafy vegetables, other types of vegetables, berries, whole grains, seafood, one seafood meal a week is sufficient, chicken, two or more servings per week, beans and other legumes and nuts. So those are the 10 healthy food groups. And then the foods to limit would be fried and fatty foods, sweets and pastries, butter and trans fat type margarine, whole fat cheese, and red meat and red meat products. 

Chin: And when you say limit, I like that you say limit because you're not saying you can't have these things. What would be the maximum a person could safely have in a week? 

Clare Morris: So we have put in parameters. So fried foods, we said no more than once per week. Sweets and pastries, no more than five servings a week. Butter, less than a pat per day. Um, whole fat cheese less than an ounce per week. And then the red meat and red meat products, so this would be deli meats as well as steaks and bacon would be included in there, and we say no more than three servings per week. So when you look at we have 15 components. You as a person might love your cheese and you can do pretty well with all of the other 15 components, but the cheese you have a problem with. This is my own particular case. I've really modified my consumption of cheese. It used to be something I would have every day, a cheese and crackers snack, and I no longer do my cheese and crackers snacks. So that's a challenge for me, but I think everybody will will be a little bit different in what is a challenge for them. So it's just trying to approach these recommendations. 

Chin: And your science has shown even if you follow this diet moderately, we still have benefit. 

Clare Morris: Yes. In 2015 we published two studies about the MIND diet. One showing that the MIND diet, people who adhered closely to the MIND diet pattern, had a 53 percent reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. And even those people who only moderately follow the diet, they had a 35 percent reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer's. And then we had a second publication where we looked at the rate of decline in people's cognitive abilities over time and found that people who were on the MIND diet had significantly slower rate of decline in their cognitive abilities. 

Chin: And I must say in my clinic, I'm always talking to my patients about the MIND diet. And one of the things that they provide feedback to me with is the fact that they don't have to do it 100 percent. Change is hard. Lifestyle changes the hardest, but knowing that they can make these small changes and eventually get to this 100 percent goal, but knowing the small changes makes a big difference for them. I also wonder with the MIND diet, is this a feasible diet across all socioeconomic levels? 

Clare Morris: I get that question asked a lot, and I haven't done an analysis of what the cost would be for this diet versus a usual westernized diet. People think that these healthier diets are more expensive, and I'm just not seeing it; but I imagine it depends also in how accessible these foods are depending on where you live and whether you have to travel a far distance to get to a store that would have these food items rather than walking out your door and there is a Kentucky Fried Chicken right there. 

Chin: Right. I like how you say minus the accessibility, but if you're already in the grocery store, your diet allows for us to reallocate what we would have spent on junk food on red meat, which is not cheap, and put it into something that is healthier. My patients have not complained of prices. They do say that salmon can be expensive, but otherwise they have said, I really stick to the outsides of the grocery stores and I haven't changed as far as my grocery budget. 

Clare Morris: Glad to hear that. 

Chin: And it's a matter of prioritizing. So you know, they'll still get the cheese curds because you're never going to convince a Wisconsinite not to do that. But it's a matter of saying, well I'm not going to get the bag of chips and instead I'll get a salad.

Clare Morris: So what I have done, because I told you I love cheese, I have made it a special treat, rather than something that I eat daily. So there's ways not to eliminate it, but to cut down and make things more of a treat. 

Chin: I guess I'll ask you as we're finishing, is there anything you want to leave the community members with? 

Clare Morris: Perhaps it's the idea that by incorporating healthy diet and exercise into your lifestyle puts you in control of limiting all sorts of bad health conditions and diseases that might come your way. 

Chin: Wonderful. Well again, thank you for joining us on Dementia Matters

Clare Morris: Thank you. 

Credits: Dementia Matters is brought to you by the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Disease Research Center. The Wisconsin Alzheimer's Disease Research Center combines academic, clinical, and research expertise from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and the geriatric research education and clinical center of the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. It receives funding from private, university, state, and national sources, including a grant from the National Institutes of Health for Alzheimer's Disease Centers. This episode was produced by Rebecca Wasieleski and recorded and edited by Alex Wehrli. Our musical jingle is "Cases to Rest," by Blue Dot Sessions. Check out our website at adrc.wisc.edu. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook. If you have any questions or comments, email us at dementiamatters@medicine.wisc.edu. Thanks for listening.