Four Dietary Stars for Brain Health: Can Food Help Fight Dementia?

Dementia is a general term for a decline in cognitive function that interferes with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. There is currently no cure for dementia, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. According to a recent study by Harvard and Zhejiang University researchers, diet may play a significant role in dementia prevention [1].

The Harvard and Zhejiang University Study on Diet and Dementia

The Harvard and Zhejiang University study, published in June 2024, investigated the connection between diet and cognitive function in over 10,000 participants [1]. Researchers tracked the participants’ diet and cognitive function over five years. The study found that people who consumed the most fruits and vegetables exhibited the best performance on cognitive tests [1]. This suggests that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may help protect against cognitive decline and dementia.

The study also revealed that specific types of fruits and vegetables provided the most significant benefits. These included [1]:

  • Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts
  • Green leafy vegetables: Spinach, kale, collard greens
  • Red and yellow vegetables: Bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes
  • Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries

The researchers believe the health benefits associated with these fruits and vegetables stem from their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties [1]. Inflammation and oxidative stress are both thought to contribute to the development of dementia.

How Fruits and Vegetables May Protect Against Dementia

Fruits and vegetables are loaded with essential nutrients that can promote brain health. They are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Here’s a closer look at how these components may help reduce dementia risk:

  • Antioxidants: Antioxidants shield cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can harm brain cells and contribute to cognitive decline. Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene, which may help prevent this damage [2].
  • Anti-inflammatory properties: Chronic inflammation is linked to an increased risk of dementia. Fruits and vegetables contain compounds with anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds may help reduce inflammation throughout the body, including in the brain [3].
  • Improved blood flow: Good blood circulation is essential for brain health. Fruits and vegetables are a good source of nitrates, which can help improve blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain [4].
  • Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF): BDNF is a protein that plays a crucial role in the growth and survival of brain cells. Some studies suggest that fruits and vegetables may help increase BDNF levels [5].

Incorporating More Fruits and Vegetables into Your Diet

The Harvard and Zhejiang University study suggests that consuming at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit daily is beneficial for cognitive health [1]. Here are some tips to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet:

  • Start small: If you’re not currently eating many fruits and vegetables, begin by adding one or two servings to your daily diet. Gradually increase your intake over time.
  • Variety is key: Consume a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to benefit from a broad range of nutrients.
  • Make it convenient: Keep pre-cut fruits and vegetables on hand for easy snacking.
  • Incorporate them into your meals: Add vegetables to omelets, stir-fries, and pasta dishes. Top salads with fruits and vegetables.
  • Try new recipes: Explore new recipes that feature fruits and vegetables.

Don’t forget the fish

  • Omega-3s: Fish, particularly fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA is crucial for brain function and development [6].
  • Research on fish and dementia: Studies suggest a link between omega-3 intake and cognitive health, with some showing a potential reduction in dementia risk [7, 8]. However, the evidence isn’t conclusive yet, and more research is needed to determine the exact impact.

Here’s how to incorporate it:

  • Aim for two to three servings of fatty fish per week [8].

Important points to remember:

  • While incorporating fish into your diet is a healthy choice, it likely works best alongside a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, as seen in the Harvard and Zhejiang University study [1].
  • While some studies suggest benefits, there’s no guarantee that fish will prevent dementia.

The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay)

There is growing evidence that suggests a positive association between adherence to the MIND diet and cognitive health, potentially slowing down cognitive decline.

Here’s a breakdown of the research on the MIND diet:

  • Original Development: Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago developed the MIND diet based on earlier studies that showed both the Mediterranean and DASH diets offered some cognitive benefits [9].
  • Observational Studies: Several observational studies have looked at the impact of the MIND diet on cognitive function in older adults. These studies haven’t involved direct intervention but have tracked dietary patterns and cognitive decline over time. One such study, published in Neurology in 2015, found that participants who adhered to the MIND diet more closely exhibited slower rates of cognitive decline compared to those who didn’t [9].
  • Limitations of Observational Studies: While observational studies offer valuable insights, they can’t definitively prove cause and effect. Other factors besides diet could potentially influence cognitive decline in these studies.

Current Understanding:

The research on the MIND diet is ongoing, but the existing evidence suggests a potential link between following the MIND diet and maintaining cognitive health. It may be a promising dietary approach for promoting brain health and potentially slowing down cognitive decline.

Additional Points:

  • More research, particularly randomized controlled trials, is needed to definitively confirm the MIND diet’s effectiveness in preventing dementia.
  • The MIND diet offers a flexible framework – individual needs and preferences can be incorporated within its core principles.
  • Consulting a healthcare professional or registered dietitian can be helpful to tailor the MIND diet to your specific situation and ensure you’re getting all the necessary nutrients.


Including fish in your diet, particularly fatty fish rich in omega-3s, might be another tool to support brain health. However, a well-rounded diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and whole foods seems to be the most promising approach based on current research. Consulting a healthcare professional for personalized guidance is always recommended.

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables appears to be a simple yet effective strategy for reducing dementia risk. The Harvard and Zhejiang University study adds to the growing body of evidence highlighting the importance of diet for cognitive health [1]. While more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms at play, incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet is a great way to promote brain health and overall well-being.

It is important to note that a healthy diet is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to dementia prevention. Other lifestyle factors that may help reduce dementia risk include regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough sleep, and managing stress.

Additionally, consulting with a healthcare professional is crucial for creating a personalized plan to reduce your dementia risk.


  1. The Healthy