What if Alzheimer's were something you could delay and even avoid? The latest research shows that diet and exercise, sleep, and stress all affect your mental acuity today and play a role in memory loss later. Here is exactly what to eat to keep those brain cells sharp now, and for years to come.

More than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's, and more have other types of non-Alzheimer's dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Association. The good news? Research suggests that a plant-based diet may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, which is why people are showing so much interest in an approach known as the MIND diet.

What is the MIND diet?

The MIND diet, developed by nutrition researcher Martha Clare Morris, Ph.D., and her colleagues at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago stands for “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.” Basically the MIND diet is a hybrid of two popular diets: Mediterranean and DASH Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) both heavily plant-based. Research suggests that both of these diets have been found to reduce the risk of chronic conditions, such as high cholesterol, heart disease, pre=diabetes, and obesity. While the link is not totally understood, researchers have found that these diets provide protection against dementia, likely through improved circulation, lower inflammation and overall wellbeing.

The combined benefits of the Mediterranean and DASH diet result in a diet that decreases the risk of contracting heart disease and diabetes, two key risk factors for Alzheimer's disease. The MIND diet also emphasizes improving brain function and dementia. A 2019 study published in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer's Disease suggests that the MIND diet is effective in preventing cognitive decline after stroke. This is probably attributed to the brain foods in the MIND diet that improve cognition, such as polyphenols in berries, omega-3 fatty acids in the nuts, and vitamin E in the extra virgin olive oil.

Read More: Eat These 5 Foods for Better Brain Health, Focus and Mood Says a Doc

What foods do you eat on the MIND diet?

The MIND diet is mainly a plant-based diet, perfect for vegetarians and vegans alike. It generally focuses specifically on foods that have been proven to optimize brain health. For instance, the MIND diet recommends fewer fruits than both the Mediterranean and DASH diets as only select fruit like berries have been associated with improved brain function.

8 healthy foods to eat on the MIND diet for sharpness and brain health

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • All other vegetables
  • Berries
  • Nuts
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Wine (in moderation)

The Mayo Clinic states that a combination of most if not all of these foods have been shown to slow brain aging by 7.5 years and lessen the chances of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Here are some foods that should be avoided on the MIND diet:

  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Red meat
  • Fried food
  • Sweets

These foods contain saturated fats and trans fats, which can increase your risk of developing chronic conditions like diabetes, insulin resistance, and even Alzheimer’s disease. A 2019 study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity found that the consumption of saturated fatty acids is one of the leading risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

How does the MIND diet work?

Current research in the field showcases that the MIND diet is full of antioxidant-rich foods with brain-boosting properties. These nutrients promote exemplary brain health, potentially by reducing decreasing stress, inflammation and the formation of beta-amyloid plaques. Thus far, studies have linked the MIND diet to slowing cognitive decline and a reduced risk of contracting Alzheimer’s disease. However, more research is needed to clearly understand the impacts of the MIND diet on the brain. In the meantime, start adding brain-boosting plants to your every meal to nourish your brain and heal your body!