URBANA, Ill. — The “MIND diet” was originally created to help older adults stave off dementia and keep their minds sharp. A new study, however, reveals that this approach to eating can also help young students find their focus. Researchers at the University of Illinois say the MIND diet may promote improved attention among pre-adolescents.
What is the MIND diet?
The Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay focuses heavily on fresh fruit, vegetables, and legumes including beans, lentils, and peas — similar to both the DASH and Mediterranean diets on their own. However, MIND also recommends specific foods, such as leafy greens and berries, which are known to promote brain health. While the MIND diet has shown positive effects among adults, very few studies haves studied the impact of MIND on children.
The research team examined two distinct diets: The Healthy Eating Index – 2015 (HEI-2015), based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the MIND diet, which combines a traditional Mediterranean diet with the heart-healthy Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
“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,” says Shelby Keye, PhD, who performed the work as a doctoral student in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and will be an assistant professor there this fall, in a media release. “This suggests that the MIND diet could have the potential to improve children’s cognitive development, which is important for success in school.”
This study made use of data originally collected by a previous cross-sectional study led by Naiman Khan, PhD, a professor of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. That project’s 85 participants ranged in age from seven to 11 years-old, and were asked to complete a seven-day diet record which the researchers used to calculate HEI-2015 and MIND diet scores.
To assess attentional inhibition, meanwhile, participants also completed a task requiring spatial attention and executive control with their reaction time and accuracy being recorded. Children with neurological disorders such as ADHD or autism were excluded from the study in an effort to reduce potential confounding factors.
Ultimately, study authors found that MIND diet scores, but not HEI-2015 scores, had a positive relationship to the study participants’ accuracy on the task. This indicates, they explain, that participants who better adhered to the MIND diet performed better on the task. Although, to be clear, researchers caution that this work shows an association only. An intervention study is necessary before scientist can make a direct link between the two.
Moving forward, study authors want to research the relationship between the MIND diet and attention in younger children, including preschool age and toddlers. This can help gauge if any differences arise based on age and whether a developmental effect is involved.
Researchers presented their findings at NUTRITION 2023, the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.
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