When considering implementing a more healthful diet, many of us focus on the physical benefits we hope to reap. Look at a handful of today’s fad diets, and you’ll see shiny promises of “fast weight loss,” “fat burning,” or “metabolism boosting!” But there are so many advantages, besides just maintaining a healthy weight, when it comes to eating a nutritious, balanced diet. A balanced diet provides overall nutrition to your body, from the outer skin to the very cells within that make you whole.
One of the most exciting areas of research is food’s impact on brain health. How about eating healthier to improve your memory, alertness, and cognitive function?
In general, a diet that benefits the brain is also going to be heart-healthy, as the mind and heart depend on a diet that promotes proper blood flow. This includes foods high in healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, and low in sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fat.
Researchers from Rush University in Chicago have recently created a new, more detailed diet for Alzheimer’s prevention called the MIND Diet, which is an acronym for the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. The MIND diet combines elements of two very healthy eating styles: the Mediterranean Diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. The MIND diet has shown exciting results for reducing the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. The Mediterranean and DASH diets have also been researched extensively and are associated with lower blood pressure, decreased cardiovascular disease, and Type 2 diabetes, which also benefits the brain.
Specifically, the MIND diet focuses on 15 components: ten foods to incorporate into your diet more, and five to limit. The foods encouraged include vegetables, green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, fish, beans, poultry, and wine (or grape juice). The foods to avoid or limit include butter, cheese, red meat, fried food, and sweets.
What is it in these foods that have such positive effects?
• Eating in this fashion provides a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, better ensuring adequate intake for your body’s needs.
• Berries and brightly colored vegetables contain antioxidants, which are vital in fighting oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can cause cell damage, especially to the brain.
• Nuts, legumes, and whole grains are shown to lower bad (LDL) cholesterol and help protect against diseases like diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) that can lead to the development of Alzheimer’s.
• Oily fish such as salmon, sardines, and tuna contain omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are essential for maintaining healthy cell membranes. A high intake is associated with positive cognitive function and inversely associated with the development and progression of dementia.
• Poultry contains important B vitamins. There appears to be a significantly higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease in those with low levels of B12 and folate. It also includes the amino acid, tryptophan, which is involved in serotonin production and release. Serotonin is sometimes called the “happiness hormone” and is associated with mood and memory.
• Red wine (or 100% grape juice) is associated with reduced risk of dementia, likely related to the polyphenolic compound, resveratrol, found in grapes. Resveratrol is thought to improve memory performance and cognitive function. But only a little is needed! One 5-ounce glass a day is recommended; too much alcohol damages the brain.
If the entire MIND diet plan seems overwhelming, it's ok! Just doing a few of the things mentioned in the MIND diet can have significant effects on brain health and overall nutrition. This all being said, it is important to remember that there is still no known cause nor cure for Alzheimer’s disease. While implementing aspects of this diet can have benefits on general health as well as possible cognitive decline, it is not to say that this is a guaranteed means of prevention. Just do what you can! Any healthy change you make will have benefit. To learn more about the MIND diet and recipes, check out Diet for the Mind.