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chickenEating a healthy diet may help prevent many diseases. Two big ones are heart disease and cancer. But what about Alzheimer’s disease? A recent study suggests certain foods may work against this disabling brain illness, too.

Diet and your brain

People with Alzheimer’s disease slowly lose the ability to remember, think, and reason. In time, they may not be able to do even basic activities. A type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease can’t be cured. That’s a grim outlook for the growing number of older adults suffering from it.

As a result, experts are feverishly studying how and why a person develops Alzheimer’s disease. Prospects for preventing it are still in their infancy. But one area of intense research is diet. One recent study looked at whether a specific eating pattern may help fend off the brain disease. It’s called the MIND diet.

MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It blends parts of the well-known Mediterranean Diet and DASH—an eating pattern for people with high blood pressure. Like those two diets, MIND stresses eating more plant-based foods and less red meat.

In the study, researchers asked nearly 1,000 older adults about the foods they ate over 1 year. They then tracked their health for an average of 4.5 years. Adults who ate the most foods in line with the MIND diet were about half as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Even those who sometimes ate MIND-based foods benefited. These results still stood after researchers ruled out the role of other healthy behaviors.

Better brain food

Much is still unknown about what causes Alzheimer’s disease. And the MIND study doesn’t prove that eating a specific way can protect you from it. But eating healthier overall may still be best for your brain. Past studies have linked certain foods to better cognitive health.

Even though more research is needed, the following dietary changes may help both your brain and your body. In particular, your heart. Some studies point to poor vascular health as a cause of dementia.

  • Cut back on saturated fats and trans fats. These dietary no-nos lurk in high-fat dairy products, meats, pastries, and fried foods.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. Produce is packed with vitamins and minerals. Leafy green veggies—like spinach and kale—may be truly good for the mind. They contain vitamin E. One more possible power food for the brain: berries.
  • Choose olive oil when cooking. It’s healthier than butter or margarine. It’s a basic ingredient in the Mediterranean diet.
  • Favor other low-fat, nutrient-rich foods. These include beans, nuts, fish, and whole grains.

You may be able to keep away Alzheimer’s disease in other ways, too. Stay physically active. A lack of exercise may account for many cases of the disease. So, too, might sleep problems. Ongoing research also suggests activities, such as word puzzles, games, and intellectual pursuits, may boost brain health.