A recent study from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign reveals a compelling link between dietary patterns and focus levels in pre-adolescents, potentially paving the way for future interventions.
The research indicates that the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet – a program originally conceived to prevent cognitive decline in adults – could potentially enhance attention in school-aged children.
The researchers examined two specific diets: the Healthy Eating Index – 2015 (HEI-2015) – a diet centered on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the MIND diet.
The MIND diet merges the Mediterranean diet with the heart-conscious Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. This unique fusion leads to a dietary regimen that targets brain health.
“We assessed how adherence to these diets was associated with children’s attentional inhibition – the ability to resist distracting stimuli – and found that only the MIND diet was positively linked with children’s performance on a task assessing attentional inhibition,” said Dr. Shelby Keye, the lead researcher on the study.
“This suggests that the MIND diet could have the potential to improve children’s cognitive development, which is important for success in school.”
Dr. Keye will be presenting these findings at NUTRITION 2023, the American Society for Nutrition‘s annual flagship event held from July 22-25 in Boston.
Just like its parent diets – the DASH and the Mediterranean – the MIND diet focuses on the consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, and legumes such as beans, lentils, and peas. However, it takes a step further by advocating for specific brain-boosting foods like leafy greens and berries.
The beneficial impacts of the MIND diet on adults have been documented, but research focusing on children has been scarce.
For their investigation, the researchers used data from an earlier cross-sectional study led by Dr. Naiman Khan, a professor of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
The study was focused on a diverse group of 85 children between 7 and 11 years old. The young participants were asked to maintain a seven-day diet record. The researchers used this record to calculate their HEI-2015 and MIND diet scores.
The children’s attentional inhibition was evaluated through a task requiring spatial attention and executive control, with their reaction times and accuracy meticulously recorded. To eliminate confounding factors, children with neurological disorders such as ADHD or autism were exempted from the study.
The analysis revealed that participants who adhered more closely to the MIND diet exhibited enhanced accuracy in the task. This correlation, however, was not observed with the HEI-2015 diet.
The researchers were careful to underline that the study demonstrates an association and not causality, pointing out that an intervention study would be required to ascertain any causal relationship.
The team is now setting their sights on understanding the relationship between the MIND diet and attention in even younger children, including preschoolers and toddlers.
The experts aim to identify whether there are age-based differences and whether developmental effects come into play. This new direction could potentially yield invaluable insights into the developmental influences of diet on cognition.
The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, two well-known dietary regimens known for their heart health and hypertension management benefits.
The MIND diet was designed to protect the brain and reduce the risk of neurological conditions, specifically dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It was developed by researchers at Rush University Medical Center, who combined elements of the Mediterranean and DASH diets that specifically impact brain health.
The MIND diet consists of 15 dietary components, including ten “brain-healthy food groups” and five “unhealthy food groups”. The brain-healthy foods are green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine. The unhealthy foods include red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.
Adherence to the MIND diet involves more than simply including the healthy foods in your diet – it’s also about limiting consumption of the unhealthy ones. The aim is to eat food from the ten brain-healthy groups and avoid foods from the five unhealthy groups.