Can the MIND diet or calorie restriction improve cognition?

Can the MIND diet or calorie restriction improve cognition?

The Surprising Link Between Diet and Cognitive Health

Salad ingredients Certain diets like the MIND diet may have cognitive health benefits. Marta Mauri/Stocksy

As we age, it is normal to experience a slight decline in cognitive function. Processes like memory and processing speed may become slower, and occasional memory lapses may occur. However, research suggests that certain lifestyle factors, including diet, can have a profound impact on cognitive health.

Observational studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats, may have beneficial effects on cognition. This diet is known for its emphasis on heart-healthy foods, and researchers wanted to further explore its impact on cognitive health.

A recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine compared two diets: the MIND diet and a mild caloric restriction. The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH diets (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). The study aimed to determine if either diet had a significant effect on cognition.

The study enrolled 604 individuals who had a family history of Alzheimer’s disease and were on suboptimal diets. All participants had a body mass index (BMI) over 25, indicating they were overweight. The participants were randomly divided into two groups: one group followed the MIND diet, while the other group continued with their normal diet.

Additionally, the researchers reduced everyone’s daily calorie intake by 250 calories, aiming for a body mass reduction of 3-5%. The participants received regular dietary counseling to ensure proper calorie intake and portion control. Those following the MIND diet received guidance on specific foods to include and avoid.

Over the course of three years, the participants underwent multiple cognitive tests and assessments of their overall health. The results showed that both the MIND diet and the caloric restriction had a small positive effect on cognition, with no significant difference between the two groups.

The study’s findings surprised many experts in the field. Molly Rapozo, a registered dietitian nutritionist, stated, “These study results point to mild caloric restriction and an average weight loss of 5.5% as lifestyle factors that may support cognition in older adults.”

The participants, on average, lost 5kg during the trial. This weight loss may have played a role in the improvements in cognitive function. Previous research has shown an association between weight loss and enhanced cognitive function.

Kate Cohen, a registered dietitian, confirmed this correlation, stating, “We know that losing weight improves many areas of health, including lowering the risk of heart disease, insulin resistance, and even some cancers. Studies have also shown that weight loss reduces overall inflammation, which likely occurred in this study.”

While the study did not find a significant difference between the MIND diet and a slightly healthier diet, Cohen noted that changing one’s diet for the better, even after age 65, has the potential to prevent cognitive decline. She emphasized the importance of a healthy diet in preventing chronic disease and maintaining overall wellbeing.

To maintain cognitive health and age gracefully, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends six lifestyle choices: making healthy diet choices, staying physically active, avoiding tobacco, getting regular check-ups, knowing your family health history, and being aware of changes in brain health.

By adopting these lifestyle choices, individuals can not only improve their physical health but also support their cognitive function. Although the study did not provide strong evidence for the MIND diet’s superiority, it highlighted the significant impact that dietary changes can have on cognitive health.

In conclusion, there is a surprising link between diet and cognitive health. While slight cognitive decline is a natural part of aging, making positive changes to our diets can potentially delay or prevent cognitive decline. Whether it’s following the MIND diet, implementing a mild caloric restriction, or simply making healthier food choices, our diets play a vital role in maintaining cognitive function as we age.