I’m sure you've all thought about how the food you eat affects your body, but have you stopped to think about how the food you are eating is affecting your brain? Oftentimes as we age, our bodies begin to slow down both physically and mentally. Researchers continue to search for the link between food and brain health and disease prevention, specifically Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
The MIND Diet
Researchers have come up with the MIND diet to help in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease among other chronic conditions. MIND stands for Mediterranean – DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. This diet combines characteristics from the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet to optimize health. It highlights 10 foods to incorporate into the diet, and five foods to limit/avoid. Studies have shown that incorporating the MIND diet into everyday life significantly decreases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease for older adults. Here are the foods and nutrition tips this diet encourages aging adults to eat:
- Leafy Green Vegetables – Great options are lettuce, spinach, kale, arugula, etc. There really is no maximum limit when it comes to eating these!
- Other Vegetables – Try to make your plate as colorful as possible for each meal by loading up on a variety of vegetables.
- Nuts – While nuts do tend to be higher in fat and calories, they contain the “healthy fats” and are also high in antioxidants and fiber. Some of the best options include unsalted almonds and walnuts.
- Berries – All berries are great options, however blueberries have been shown to have the greatest effect on brain protection
- Beans – Beans are high in fiber and protein and have lower calorie and fat content. It is easy to incorporate beans into your diet by adding them to salads/burritos or tacos, or spreading them on a sandwich or wrap
- Whole Grains – Try including whole grains in the diet rather than white, refined carbohydrate options
- Fish – The MIND diet recommends having fish at least once per week. Some options include salmon, tilapia, and tuna
- Poultry – Lean proteins such as turkey and chicken are encouraged
- Olive Oil – Try to make olive oil your primary oil in food preparation rather than butter/margarine
- Wine – In moderation, of course. One glass of wine per day has great antioxidant effects on the brain
Here are five foods to avoid and limit in the diet:
- Red Meat – Try to limit red meat to only a few times during the week, and substitute with leaner protein options
- Butter/Margarine – As mentioned above, try substituting olive oil in food preparation and limiting butter consumption to 1 tablespoon
- Cheese – Although it is quite tasty, this food should be limited to one to two servings per week
- Pastries & Baked Goods – This does not come as a surprise, but pastries and baked goods have a lot of artificial ingredients and preservatives in them.
- Fried and Fast Food – Another obvious food to avoid and limit. These foods are high in saturated fat and also contribute to heart disease.
While following the recommendations outlined in the MIND diet may help to decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, there are other non-diet related risk factors as well. Some of these other risk factors include smoking, physical activity/exercise, and genetic makeup. As we age, it is more important than ever to pay attention to the risk factors we do have control over such as physical activity and nutrition.
The recommendations outlined in the MIND diet above are not hard to follow and incorporate into our daily lives. No matter what stage we are in life, it is important to take care of our bodies and pay attention to the foods and nutrients we are eating and drinking.