The MIND diet aims to promote brain health and has been associated with slower cognitive decline and with decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. But what about Parkinson’s? Is there a potential place for the MIND diet and could following this pattern of eating improve your Parkinson’s symptoms and quality of life? Before looking at this dietary pattern, let’s first take a closer look at the evidence.
The MIND diet was developed by Martha Clare Morris, PhD, a nutritional epidemiologist, and her colleagues at Rush and Harvard University. This dietary pattern is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, both of which have heart healthy benefits. Foods from both diets that have been shown to benefit brain health in previous research are included. In case you were wondering, MIND stands for the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.
What does the evidence say about the MIND diet?
A study published in 2015 that followed participants for an average of 4.7 years, found the MIND diet was strongly associated with slower cognitive decline. Older adults who adhered to the diet the most showed an equivalent of being 7.5 years younger cognitively than those who followed the diet least. In this study the MIND diet had greater estimated effects than either the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet.
Several additional studies published between 2017 and 2019 have also shown protective associations of the MIND diet on cognition. Only one study published in 2018 showed no association between the diet and cognitive decline in US older nurses.
Following the MIND diet has been shown to offer protection against the development of Alzheimer’s disease. A study published in 2015, that followed participants for an average of 4.5 years, found older adults who followed the MIND diet rigorously had a 53% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers also observed a 35% lower risk when the diet was only moderately followed. In this study both the MIND and Mediterranean diets had comparable risks for Alzheimer’s disease but only the MIND diet was associated with lower risk when moderately followed.
A study of older adults published in 2018 investigated the associations of the MIND, Mediterranean, and DASH diets with self-reported disability of participants who were followed for an average of 5.3 years. The study found moderate or high adherence to the MIND diet was associated with decreased risk of disability, whereas only high adherence to the Mediterranean and DASH diets resulted in significant reductions in disability.
A cross-sectional study published in 2021 sought to examine the relationship between MIND diet adherence and age of Parkinson’s onset. In this study food frequency questionnaires from 167 participants with Parkinson’s and 119 healthy controls were scored for MIND and Mediterranean diet adherence. Higher adherence to the MIND diet was significantly associated with a higher age at disease onset, especially in women. Female participants adhered significantly closer to the MIND diet than did male participants. Researchers noted this tendency for women to adhere more strongly may contribute to their lower rate of Parkinson’s incidence.
An earlier study published in 2018 examined the relationship of the MIND, Mediterranean, and DASH diets with the development of parkinsonism in older adults. 706 older adults participated in this study which involved annual assessments for the presence of four parkinsonian signs (bradykinesia, parkinsonian gait, rigidity and tremors). For those who developed parkinsonism, progression was assessed by change in a global parkinsonian score. Participants were followed for an average of 4.6 years.
Results of this study found higher adherence to the MIND diet was significantly associated with lower rates of developing parkinsonism, and with slower progression of parkinsonian signs. More moderate protective associations were observed for the Mediterranean diet but not for the DASH diet.
What foods should I eat or limit/avoid?
The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 brain-healthy food groups which should be consumed. Regular consumption of berries and green leafy vegetables are two specified food groups that are incorporated into this dietary pattern.
10 brain-healthy food groups
- Green leafy vegetables – eat at least 1 serving per day e.g. Spinach, Kale, Bok Choy, Collard greens, Romaine lettuce, Rocket, Endive.
- Other vegetables – eat at least 1 serving of another vegetable per day.
- Berries – eat 2 or more servings per week e.g. blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries.
- Nuts – eat 5 or more servings per week.
- Whole grains – eat 3 or more servings per day e.g. wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, oats.
- Fish – eat 1 or more servings per week e.g. fatty fish high in omega 3 such as Salmon and Sardines. Avoid fried fish.
- Beans – eat 3 or more servings per week e.g. Black beans, Cannellini beans, Lima beans, Red kidney beans.
- Poultry – eat 2 or more servings per week e.g. chicken or turkey. Avoid fried poultry.
- Olive oil – use olive oil as your main cooking oil. Choose extra virgin olive oil.
- Wine – no more than 1 standard drink per day e.g. red wine. Always talk to your doctor if drinking alcohol is appropriate for you.
For more detailed information about the 10 brain-healthy foods click here.
The diet also includes 5 unhealthy food groups which should be limited due to their high saturated and trans fat content.
5 unhealthy food groups
- Butter and stick margarine
- Red meat
- Fried or fast food
- Pastries and sweets
For more detailed information about the 5 unhealthy food groups click here.
The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 brain-healthy food groups to eat regularly and 5 unhealthy food groups to limit or avoid. This pattern of eating has been associated with protection against cognitive decline, reduced risk of disability and Alzheimer’s disease and more recently lower rates of developing parkinsonism and slower progression of parkinsonian signs. Several studies on the MIND diet have shown benefit when the diet was only moderately followed.
In the meantime, with its emphasis on nutrient-dense, plant-based foods and limit on saturated fat intake, the MIND diet is a reasonable approach that is easy to follow for people with Parkinson’s.
Want to learn more?
In 2017, Dr. Martha Clare Morris published Diet for the Mind, a book that summarises the benefits of the MIND diet and includes 80 brain-healthy recipes.
Article last updated September 2021
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