Can Certain Diets Reduce Your Risk of Dementia?

May 15, 2023

Healthy YOU | Memory Care
couple buying groceries

Whether you’re worried about your own mental function or you care for aging loved ones, you may be wondering about the connection between diet and lowering dementia risk. Get the facts on how science shows certain diets – such as the Mediterranean and DASH diets – affect brain health.

Can the Mediterranean diet reduce your risk of dementia?

“Researchers have conducted numerous studies about the Mediterranean diet and its effects on health, including brain health,” explains Tina Thomas, DHA, MSHP, CDP, CADDCT, Executive Director of The Martha W. Goodson Center. Here are the ways that the Mediterranean diet may help protect the brain and reduce dementia risk:

  • High levels of antioxidants from fruits and vegetables may help improve blood flow in the brain and protect the brain from damage that occurs with Alzheimer’s.
  • High levels of antioxidants from fruits and vegetables may also help increase the level of proteins in the brain that may reduce brain cell damage with Alzheimer’s.
  • Fish intake can help lower the risk of cognitive decline.
  • This diet may help reduce the inflammation in the brain associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
  • This diet may help reduce cholesterol levels; research shows high cholesterol levels are linked with memory and thinking decline.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

This diet plan includes the following foods:




Whole grains


Legumes (beans)


Fruits and vegetables


Healthy (plant-based, unsaturated) fats, herbs and spices


Fish, nuts and seeds

2-3 times per week

Poultry, eggs and dairy

1-2 times per week


People following the Mediterranean diet limit their intake of red meats, desserts and sweets. They also aim to get regular physical activity.


Can the DASH diet reduce your risk of dementia?

Heart experts originally created the DASH diet to help their diabetic patients eat healthier. In fact, it’s in the name – Dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH). “More recently, researchers have found a connection between following the DASH diet and improved brain health,” explains Thomas.

Research has found that the DASH diet may protect your brain in the following ways:

  • Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats can help reduce inflammation throughout the body, which has been linked to brain health decline.
  • Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables can help improve blood flow to the brain.
  • Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables may protect against damaging plaques forming in the brain.

What is the DASH diet?

Here’s how the DASH diet works:

Focus on eating these foods

Aim to limit intake of these foods

Fruits and vegetables

High sodium (salt) foods


Poultry with skin on

Low-fat dairy

Processed foods

Nuts and seeds

Red meat

Whole grains

Saturated fats, such as butter, and coconut and palm oils

Sugary drinks

Sweets and desserts


Can the MIND diet reduce your risk of dementia?

The MIND diet, which stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, The MIND diet is the newest of these brain health diets. A research team out of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago created this diet plan to protect brain health and reduce your risk of developing dementia. Here’s what they found:

  • For those who follow the MIND diet plan 100%, their chance for developing Alzheimer’s was 53% less than people who didn’t follow this plan.
  • Those who only “mostly” followed the MIND diet had a 35% reduced chance for developing Alzheimer’s.

Those findings are significant – and you may wonder what is involved in the MIND diet. Let’s dig in.

What is the MIND diet?

This diet plan is based on 10 key types of food:



Whole grains

3+ servings per day

Leafy green vegetables

6+ times per week

Other types of vegetables

1+ time per day


1 glass per day (can omit if you don’t drink)


2+ times per week

Unsalted, oil-free nuts

5+ servings per week


3 times per week


2 times per week


1 time per week

Olive oil

Use as a condiment and for food preparation


On the MIND diet, you also aim to limit the following:

  • Butter or margarine
  • Cheese
  • Desserts
  • Fast food
  • Fried food
  • Processed foods
  • Red meat
  • Sweets and sugary foods


Eating for better brain health

If you choose to follow one of these diet plans to help protect your brain health, try to pick a plan that will work for your lifestyle. Making small changes add up, so do what you can do to make healthy swaps in your everyday life – and don’t beat yourself up if you indulge now and then.


Make an appointment

Take steps now to help your brain and memory stay in tip-top shape for years to come. Schedule an appointment with a Riverside Health System provider to see if making changes in your diet could help reduce your risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s.

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