Eating This Way Can Slash Your Dementia Risk, New Study Says


The older you get, the more you need to prioritize your cognitive health. According to the Alzheimer's Association, an estimated 6.5 million Americans age 65 and older are currently living with dementia—and while there's no guaranteed way to guard against this devastating disease, certain lifestyle habits can help boost your brain health and lower your risk.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open found that eating one type of diet in particular may help reduce your risk of cognitive decline. Read on to find out how your diet can help lower your odds of developing dementia.

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Several factors can cause dementia.
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Dementia is a complex, multi-faceted disease. While you can't pinpoint a single root cause of this debilitating mental condition, you may be at risk due to several factors. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, these include advancing age, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and atherosclerosis (thickening of blood vessel walls due to plaque build-up). Other factors may spike your risk of cognitive decline as well. For example, exposure to environmental toxins, stress, loneliness, depression, poor sleep, and a sedentary lifestyle can all elevate your risk of cognitive decline.

Over 400 different types of dementia exist. The most common are Alzheimer's disease, Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. Interestingly, some forms of dementia can occur simultaneously, in a condition known as mixed dementia. While there's no shortage of risk factors for this neurological disease, you can take steps to reduce your likelihood of developing dementia by adopting healthy lifestyle habits.

What you eat affects your brain.
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One of the most effective ways to reduce your risk of dementia is to start eating more plant-based, whole foods and limiting processed foods in your diet. Adding more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds to your diet can reduce your risk of cognitive decline, according to a 2021 study published in Molecular Nutrition Food Research. In addition, the researchers noted that foods such as blueberries, mushrooms, coffee, cocoa, and apples had protective effects on brain health.

The worst culprits to leave off your grocery list for better brain health are ultra-processed foods high in saturated fat and added sugars. Foods like processed meats, soft drinks, sweets, pastries, and sugary cereals can all elevate your likelihood of developing dementia. A study from 2017 published in Alzheimer's & Dementia found that higher sugar intake from sodas and sugar-sweetened fruit juices was associated with lower total brain volume and poor memory.

Following this diet reduces dementia risk.
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If you're looking for a healthy, natural way to boost your brain health, look no further than the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet. As the name suggests, this way of eating is based on a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet—two brain-healthy diets in their own right. A study published in the the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open in July 2022 found that " a high level of adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with better global cognition and decreased 7-year learning and memory decline" among the cohort studied, which included middle-aged and older adults of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity.

So what do you eat on the MIND diet? Stacy Leung, RDN, a registered dietitian and nutritionist with Lettuce Grow, says, "The MIND diet focuses on consuming vegetables—specifically green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, berries, poultry, fish, olive oil, and a moderate amount of wine. These foods provide excellent sources of antioxidants, which help decrease inflammation in the body and lower your risk of dementia."

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Everyone can benefit from eating the MIND diet.
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The MIND diet is designed to reduce dementia risk and help people maintain brain health as they age. In a recent analysis published in Nutrients, researchers analyzed three U.S.-based cohort studies. They found that adherence to the MIND diet reduced dementia risk by improving immune health and lowering cholesterol—two pathways that can increase dementia risk if left unchecked.

"The MIND diet provides healthful guidelines anyone can benefit from," says Leung. "If you consume these focused foods regularly, your body and brain will receive nutritional and anti-aging benefits."