A study published recently has some good news for those having trouble remembering things: You can eat your way to remembering more.
Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have found that older adults may benefit from a specific diet called the MIND diet even when they develop protein deposits, known as amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, which contribute to dementia.
Plaques and tangles are pathologies found in the brain that can build up between nerve cells and typically interfere with thinking and problem-solving skills.
Just what is the MIND diet? It’s a blend of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, developed by the late Martha Morris, a Rush nutritional epidemiologist, and her colleagues.
Earlier research on the MIND diet found that adherence may reduce a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
The study found participants in the study who followed the MIND diet — even moderately later in life — did not have cognition problems, according to a paper published Sept. 14 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Dr. Klodian Dhana, the lead author and an assistant professor at Rush, found that some people can maintain cognitive function despite an accumulation of the plaques and tangles in their brain, suggesting diet can play a role.
In the study, researchers examined the associations of diet — from the start of the study until death — with brain pathologies and cognitive functioning in 569 older adults who participated in the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center’s ongoing Memory and Aging Project, which began in 1997.
Participants were without known dementia, and all of them agreed to undergo annual clinical evaluations while alive and brain autopsy after their death.
Beginning in 2004, participants were given an annual food frequency questionnaire about how often they ate 144 food items in the previous year. Using the questionnaire answers, the researchers gave each participant a MIND diet score based on how often the participants ate specific foods.
The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 “brain-healthy food groups” and five unhealthy groups — red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.
To benefit from the MIND diet, a person would need to eat at least three servings of whole grains, a green leafy vegetable and one other vegetable every day (along with an optional glass of wine), snack most days on nuts, have beans every other day or so, eat poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week.
A person also must limit intake of the designated unhealthy foods, limiting butter to less than 1½ teaspoons a day and eating less than a serving a week of sweets and pastries, whole-fat cheese and fried or fast food.
Based on the frequency of intake reported for the healthy and unhealthy food groups, the researchers calculated the MIND diet score for each participant across the study period. An average of the MIND diet score from the start of the study until the participant’s death was used in the analysis.
Researchers found that a higher MIND diet score was associated with better memory and thinking skills independently of Alzheimer’s disease pathology and other common age-related brain pathologies. They concluded that the diet seemed to have a protective capacity and may contribute to cognitive resilience in older adults.
The bottom line is that diet changes can impact cognitive functioning and risk of dementia (positively or negatively). It’s never too late to make diet changes to slow cognitive decline.
Q: What are persimmons? Can you eat them?
A: Persimmons are an autumn fruit that are best known for predicting the weather. The story goes that the inside of the fruit reveals a white marking in one of three weather-predicting shapes: a knife shape, which forecasts a cold, “cutting” winter; a fork, which means a mild season; or a spoon, which represents lots of snow shoveling. (It was a spoon this year).
The fruit itself is known for its intensely sweet flavor. It can be added to a salad or stir-fry, dipped in yogurt or eaten like an apple.
» 10 ounces 95% lean ground turkey
» 1 (1-inch) piece ginger, minced
» 1 shallot, minced
» 1 tablespoon tomato paste
» Salt and pepper to taste
» 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
» 1 medium cucumber, sliced on the diagonal
» 6 whole-grain slider buns
In a medium bowl, combine ground turkey, ginger, shallot and tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper. Mix until just combined.
Form six patties, about ¼-inch thick. Heat olive oil in a medium pan on medium-high heat until hot. Add patties and cook for 1-2 minutes per side or until cooked through. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.
Assemble sliders by placing cucumber slices and patties between buns.
Per serving: 350 calories; 25 grams protein; 33 grams carbohydrate; 14 grams fat (3 grams saturated); 5 grams fiber
— Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois. Contact her at email@example.com, or follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd, or click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.