When it comes to heart health, the Mediterranean diet is the winner. The DASH diet is the best choice for patients with high blood pressure. Both diets have shown some ability to protect the brain from cognitive decline. Now it appears that a diet composed of those brain-beneficial foods may help shield stroke survivors from developing dementia within 10 years after their stroke.
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The eating regimen, known as the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, emphasizes specific foods to eat, all of which have been associated with slower cognitive decline in clinical studies. It also names groups of foods to avoid, based on adverse effects on the brain.
According to the MIND diet pioneers, an ischemic stroke causes the brain to age 3.6 years for every hour that stroke symptoms go untreated. This likely explains why stroke survivors have double the rate of dementia than the general public, and almost 20 percent of stroke survivors develop dementia.
“The ability to alter these outcomes with a healthy diet has tremendous implications for thousands of people who suffer a stroke every year,” explains dietitian Kate Patton, RD.
Using food as medicine
Since the MIND diet made its debut in 2015, it has been shown to slow cognitive decline in healthy older adults. A study of healthy Chicago-area residents found that those who tended to follow the MIND diet functioned as if they were 7.5 years younger than those who were least adherent to the diet.
Earlier this year, a study comparing the Mediterranean, DASH and MIND diets in octogenarians who had suffered a stroke was presented at the International Stroke Conference. This study found a 20-year difference in cognitive functioning between those who were most and least adherent to the MIND diet.
How the MIND diet is unique
All three diets encourage eating lean meats, fish, whole grains, fresh produce and olive oil and discourage salt. But they have important differences.
The MIND diet deviates from the Mediterranean and DASH diets in that it restricts the type and amount of fruits and vegetables to be consumed. The MIND diet specifies eating berries, but not other fruits, as the other diets do. Nor does it tout eating dairy products, potatoes or more than one meal of fish a week.
The MIND diet suggests consuming green, leafy vegetables plus one other vegetable every day, while the Mediterranean and DASH diets encourage loading up on fruits and vegetables of all kinds.
When it comes to dairy, the MIND diet discusses limiting only cheese and butter. The Mediterranean diet encourages consuming dairy products in moderation and allows eggs.
The MIND diet specifies eliminating foods with an unhealthy effect on the brain. These include red meat, and processed meats, fried fast foods, sweets and pastries, butter, stick margarine and whole-fat cheese.
Is it worth it?
You don’t have to follow the MIND diet to the letter. Its developers say it should be used as a guideline for avoiding foods that are bad for the brain and encouraging brain-friendly foods. Most people would find the MIND diet appealing, if they felt sure it would stave off dementia.
That confirmation may come by 2021, when the results of a five-year clinical trial are reported. The trial, supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging, is evaluating the impact of the MIND diet on 600 seniors, some of whom will be given brain scans.
“I think it will prove effective,” says Patton.
This article originally appeared in Cleveland Clinic Heart Advisor.