A diet originally designed to help ward off declining memory in older people might also help improve attention span in young children, according to new research.
The findings could help to develop diet plans to improve youngsters’ academic performance, say scientists.
The new study examined two diets: the Healthy Eating Index – 2015 (HEI-2015), which is based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, which combines the Mediterranean diet with the heart-healthy Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
Dr. Shelby Keye, of the University of Illinois, said: “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.
“This suggests that the MIND diet could have the potential to improve children’s cognitive development, which is important for success in school.”
Much like the DASH and Mediterranean diets on which it is based, the MIND diet emphasizes fresh fruit, veg, and legumes such as beans, lentils, and peas.
However, it also includes recommendations for specific foods – such as leafy greens and berries – which promote brain health.
Although the MIND diet has been shown to have positive effects in adults, very few studies have been performed in children.
The new research used data collected in a previous study led by Professor Naiman Khan, of the University of Illinois.
The study’s 85 participants, aged from seven- to 11-years-old, completed a seven-day diet record from which the researchers calculated HEI-2015 and MIND diet scores.
To assess attentional inhibition, the children also completed a task that requires spatial attention and executive control with their reaction time and accuracy recorded.
Youngsters with neurological disorders such as ADHD or autism were excluded from the study to reduce confounding factors.
The research team found that MIND diet scores but not HEI-2015 scores were positively related to the youngsters’ accuracy on the task, meaning that the participants who better adhered to the MIND diet performed better on the task.
Now they plan to study the relationship between the MIND diet and attention in toddlers and preschool-age children to determine if there are any differences based on age.
Dr. Keye presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition in Boston, Mass.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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