Nutrition and Brain Health
Yes, nutrition does play a role in your overall brain health! As cited by First Choice Neurology, there is growing evidence for possible dietary risk factors in the development of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline. Additional research shows that eating certain whole foods high in antioxidants, and avoiding processed foods with high amounts of added sugar, can in fact slow brain aging by 7.5 years, and lessen the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. As stated by Mayo Clinic, this mindful way of eating is called the MIND diet.
What is the MIND Diet?
The MIND diet is not a trendy diet to help you lose weight fast. It is actually a hybrid of two existing eating styles with decades of research at their backs: the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet. University researchers developed the MIND diet to emphasize foods that impact brain health. Here’s what it consists of:
1. Vegetables: Vegetables, specifically leafy greens like spinach, kale, collards and mustard greens, contain omega 3’s and rich amounts of lutein and vitamin E. This may help preserve what researchers call “crystallized intelligence,” the ability to use the skills and knowledge a person acquires over time. According to Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, people who consume higher levels of lutein tend to do better on tests that measure “crystallized intelligence.” To max out your veggie score, aim to eat at least six servings a week of greens. Then round it out with at least one serving of other vegetables a day. Pro Tip: We increase our leafy green intake by adding kale or spinach into smoothies and by mixing them into quinoa or brown rice at dinner!
2. Berries: When scientists reviewed the research on diet and brain health, one type of fruit stood out: berries! Berries, such as blueberries and strawberries are full of antioxidants that stimulate the region of the brain involved with memory and learning. A study published on the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health cited that berry intake “appears to delay cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years.” Treat yourself to two or more berry servings a week for peak brain health. Pro Tip: Try having a handful of berries in the evening to help satisfy your sweet tooth while also improving brain health!
3. Nuts: Yes, nuts are high in calories and fat. But they are considered a nutrient dense food due to the being rich in unsaturated fatty and other bioactive compounds: high-quality vegetable protein, fiber, minerals, tocopherols, phytosterols, and phenolic compounds. Try grabbing a handful of nuts as a snack during the day instead of a processed alternative. You will full, satisfied and energized! Pro Tip: We like to snack on walnuts because they are rich in the omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is believed to help protect brain tissue.
4. Legumes: The legume family includes beans, peas, and lentils. Legumes are packed with protein, fiber and B vitamins, which not only help you stay full and satisfied but also support brain health. Mayo Clinic states that in one study analyzing the diets of older adults, those who had the lowest intakes of legumes had greater cognitive decline than those who ate more. Pro Tip: Try substituting legumes for meat in one or two meals a week to not only support brain health, but also help keep your grocery bill lower!
5. Olive Oil: Another Mediterranean diet staple that has a home in the MIND diet is olive oil. Researchers recommend using it as your primary cooking oil, and avoiding canola oil, butter and margarine. Olive oil is loaded with healthy fats and antioxidants, making it not only great for brain health, but is may also protect against inflammation, heart disease, breast cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Pro Tip: Choose “extra virgin” olive oil and choose a bottle that’s opaque or dark glass since light causes it to go bad faster.