Brain Health and the MIND Diet

As a society, we’re on the never-ending journey to stay young in mind and body. We do many things to maintain our youth. Exercise, eating right, limiting alcohol intake and avoiding smoking are all factors commonly known to support a better aging process. Though wrinkles and graying hair may be a bother to some, they can be overlooked when spending hundreds or thousands of dollars each year to stop the signs of aging. In fact, the anti-aging market is estimated to surpass $216 billion by 2021 according to a recently released report.

But what happens when we begin to notice shortfalls in our cognitive functions? Is it as easy as purchasing the latest product touting improved brain health?

What is the MIND diet?

The MIND diet, otherwise known as the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, was developed by Martha Clare Morris, PhD, and colleagues. It’s a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, both of which are endorsed as top diets in the U.S. for reducing the risk of disease and supporting overall health. Initial findings suggest the MIND diet slows cognitive decline as we age. Currently, a MIND dietary trial intervention study is underway to verify these findings.

The MIND diet emphasizes various foods as being beneficial in preventing cognitive decline. When our cognitive health is at its best, we are able to think clearly, learn new things and remember the things we have learned. Of course, some cognitive changes are a normal part of aging. But when our cognition begins to falter, we may experience confusion, memory loss, and slower processing of new information.

What if we could maximize our nutrition to support brain health and help prevent or slow these changes?

What can you eat?

The MIND diet highlights ten “brain healthy” foods including:
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Other vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Berries
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Olive oil
  • One glass of red wine per day (when appropriate)

The MIND diet highlights ten “brain healthy” foods including dark leafy greens.

It also recommends limiting or avoiding these five food types:
  • Red meat
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Pastries and sweets
  • Fried and fast food

Specifically, the MIND diet advises eating a minimum of three servings of whole grain as well as a salad and one other vegetable each day.

The MIND diet also recommends eating:
  • Nuts most days
  • Beans at least every other day
  • Chicken and berries a minimum of twice a week
  • Fish once a week

The MIND diet also advocates drinking a glass of red wine each day for those who already drink alcohol. Beginning to drink for a proposed health benefit is never recommended. For those who do not drink alcohol, consider have a serving of grapes or a small glass of grape juice instead. Resveratrol, the antioxidant found in red wine and grapes, is from in the skin of grapes and at this time is considered the major health promoting component of red wine.

What if I have food allergies?

The great thing about these recommendations is that even those with food allergies can adhere to many of the suggestions.

  • Gluten-free grains such as quinoa, millet, oats, buckwheat, amaranth, sorghum and teff are all whole grains when eaten in their unprocessed form.
  • If you have a nut allergy, consider incorporating seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin, or hemp seeds.
  • If you’re allergic to fish, incorporate other foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids such as flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts, or soy products.

The great thing about these recommendations is that even those with food allergies can adhere to many of the suggestions.

Living with food allergies can be challenging when it comes to ensuring complete nutrition, but it is possible. Strive for a wide variety of foods each day to ensure you are getting adequate nutrition. Allergy treatments such as sublingual immunotherapy can help you build tolerance to your allergens, potentially enabling you to eat foods previously not tolerated. If you have food allergies or intolerances and are concerned about your overall nutrition, a food allergy dietitian can help you navigate the tricky terrain of food allergies.

Fortunately, diet is not all we can do to support our brain. The Cleveland Clinic’s Six Pillars of Brain Health recommends staying physically fit, controlling your health risks, ensuring adequate sleep and relaxation, stimulating your brain with mental fitness and ensuring plenty of social interaction in addition to nutritional factors.

There are many things we can do to support our brains throughout our lives. What’s stopping you? Don’t wait! Incorporate brain healthy activities into your life now. Nutrition science is constantly changing, but researchers will continue to explore the effects of foods on our brain to help us keep our brains functioning at their best as we age.

By Emily Melby, RDN, Allergy Associates of La Crosse