Food & Fitness After 50: Unlocking the MIND Diet

While there is no one best diet for those over the age of 50, in Food & Fitness After 50, we highlight four healthy eating plans that can work for just about everyone. And, it happens that these are the top four plans identified as the “Best Diets” by U.S. News & World Report in their 2019 review. The four plans are:

  • The Mediterranean Diet
  • The DASH Eating Plan
  • The Flexitarian Diet
  • The MIND Diet

minddietThe MIND diet stands for the official mouthful name of the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. A much catchier title is the MIND diet because its premise is that diet can delay cognitive decline.  Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago studied over 900 older adults from retirement communities for 5 years; those who had the greatest adherence to the MIND diet suffered less cognitive decline than those who did not. This was an observational study, meaning that it shows association with diet and brain health, but it doesn’t prove it. So, the researchers are in the midst of conducting a longer, more rigorous study with adults in both Chicago and Boston. The results will be available in a couple of years.

However, the diet plan is healthy and while it can’t promise to prevent all cognitive decline with aging, it certainly can’t hurt as the plan is comprised of healthy foods that we should all be consuming.

Today, we feature the MIND diet by posing questions to registered dietitian, author, colleague, and friend, Maggie Moon. I met Maggie many moons ago at a CIA meeting…. Culinary Institute of America, not the spy agency, in her role as nutrition communications director for the Wonderful Company. The folks that bring us tasty, healthful foods, like pistachios, almonds, pomegranates and juice, and Halo mandarins. Maggie has written two books: The MIND Diet and the Telomere Diet Cookbook.

Chris and MaggieAs you can see from the photo of the two of us together at the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics conference, she is not in my age demographic, so my first question was obvious!

Question: You are a young woman…. how did you get interested in writing about food and nutrition to prevent cognitive decline which is something we think about as a part of aging?

Answer: I’ve been a registered dietitian for more than ten years and while I do still feel youthful, to answer your question, I think about when I was truly young. I grew up in a three-generation household with my parents and my grandmother. They were all immigrants from a war-weary and economically depressed South Korea in the late 1960s, so my immediate family is all I have. I am lucky to have a handful of siblings, but no big extended family. Because of this I feel extremely close to my parents and am ferociously driven to support their wellbeing. And because I was just as close to my grandmother, I’ve been aware of the importance of healthy aging from a young age.

I’ve always had an affinity for the elderly, probably because of my relationship with my grandmother. I love helping them and it is upsetting to my core when I hear about mistreatment of older adults. Truth is, I’m looking forward to being old lady! I’m in no rush, but it is something I think of fondly. I think of aging as a privilege.

This is a long answer to a simple question, but I guess it boils down to my writing what I care about. And I care about helping people thrive as they age and improving their health in longevity. It starts with my own parents, but then extends to my and my husband’s future, and finally to all humans that I can reach with my work, whether they’re worried about their own health or someone else’s.

 Question: Can you describe the MIND diet in your own words. What is it about the diet that would appeal to older adults and when is the best time to adopt the MIND principles? I can image some people in their 60s saying “it’s too late for me.”

Mind diet coverThe MIND diet was born from research led by Dr. Martha Clare Morris at Rush University in Chicago. Its foundation is a blend of two well-studied heart-healthy diets, but what makes it different is that it’s been optimized for brain health based on the available evidence for which specific foods support cognitive health, slow down decline, and reduce the risk of developing dementia. The two landmark studies that came out in late 2015 suggest that following the MIND diet keeps the brain 7.5 years cognitively younger and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s by 53% compared to those who didn’t follow the principles of the diet.

It’s never too late, especially for someone in their 60s. Most of the research related to the MIND diet is with older adults, so it’s clearly relevant throughout older adulthood. The Alzheimer’s study was conducted with people ages 58-98 and the average age in the cognitive decline study was 81 years old.

That said, the results indicate that the longer someone followed the dietary principles the greater the benefit for brain health, suggesting that more years of healthy eating was more protective. Therefore, I think it’s important for people to eat for brain health at any age, but especially after age 40.

Question: What are the core principles of the diet? How did you develop the recipes for the book?

The core principles of the MIND diet includes ten healthy food groups that make up the foundation of the eating pattern. It also includes five food groups that should be limited.

The MIND diet includes whole grains, vegetables, olive oil, red wine (for those who drink alcohol), leafy greens, nuts, beans, berries, poultry, and seafood. From a culinary and cultural sensitivity perspective, I appreciate that the food groups are so broad that they can be adapted to many different heritage diets and preferences. The foods to limit include processed and red meat, solid fats from butter, margarine and cheese, fried food in general but especially from fast food, and added sugars from pastries and other sweets.

Here is a breakdown of recommended food groups to consume:

Foundation (these are minimums, except for red wine)

  • Whole grains – 3 times a day
  • Vegetables – daily
  • Olive oil – used as main fat
  • Red wine – a glass with a meal (only one; excess here is detrimental, and of course, if you don’t drink you won’t miss the benefits of the diet)
  • Leafy greens – six times/week
  • Nuts – 5 times/week
  • Beans – 4 times/week
  • Berries – 2 times/week
  • Poultry – 2 times/week
  • Seafood – 1 time/week

Limit

  • Processed and red meat – less than 4 times/week (e.g. no more than 3 times/week)
  • Butter/margarine – less than 1 tbsp/day (e.g. no more than 1-2 tsp/day)
  • Cheese – less than 1 time/week (e.g. once every two weeks)
  • Fried food – less than 1 time/week (e.g. once every two weeks)
  • Sweets – less than 5 times/week (e.g. no more than 4 times/week)

The recipes for the book were developed by me and other culinary dietitians. For the guest recipes, I collaborated with trusted colleagues. I provided the recipe parameters and then reviewed submissions to ensure they fit the guidelines and added a good variety of options before selecting them for my book.

Question: Let’s describe your newest book about telomere health….fill us in on how this ties into the MIND diet.

telomere-book-cover-on-amazonMy newest book, The Telomere Diet & Cookbook, came out in fall of 2019. It’s about genetic aging on a cellular level, and how what we eat can slow or accelerate biological aging. Telomeres are protective endcaps to our chromosomes, and they prematurely dwindle when exposed to inflammatory diets, environmental toxins, and poor sleep, to name a few. They protect the DNA in our chromosomes like shoelace tips protect shoelaces from unraveling and growing dysfunctional. Telomere length is a widely-accepted gauge for biological aging in research.

Telomere health is ultimately tied back to fighting inflammation and oxidative stress, which are also systemic issues the MIND diet attacks and improves. Both books are about healthy aging for all. In both books, the evidence-based perspective is that the more years spent eating healthfully the better. That sounds like common sense, and to some degree it is, but it actually signals a shift in thinking about aging: in this paradigm, aging is a continuum that begins at birth, not just once we hit a certain birthday. This is why two 50-year old people can be in completely different stages of biological aging while at the same chronological age – one vibrant, active and thriving; the other sedentary, sluggish and beleaguered with chronic health conditions. Of course, genetics, socio-economic factors, and lifestyle all play a part, but what we eat is something under our control.

Question: What the 3 key takeaways that you want people to know about cognitive health as we age?

  1. It’s never too late to start to eat healthfully.
  2. The earlier you start the better.
  3. Prevention through a healthy diet and lifestyle, not waiting for a miracle medication, is currently the best defense against age-related cognitive decline.

For more information on both diets, check out Maggie’s website by clicking here.

For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out Food & Fitness After 50 available at Amazon and other booksellers.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.