According to the World Health Organization, over 55 million people around the globe are currently living with dementia. And sadly, things are only getting worse. Alzheimer’s Disease International predicts that the number of people living with the condition is expected to nearly double every 20 years, reaching 139 million by 2050.
Dementia refers to a group of brain conditions that result in reduced cognitive function. It affect one’s memory, behavior, thinking, and emotions. Primarily affecting older adults, dementia impacts not only those afflicted with the disease, but also those who love and care for a person living with dementia. While there is currently no cure for dementia, there are a number of ways we can help to reduce our risk of developing it – nutrition being one of them.
When it Comes to a Healthy Brain, Prevention is Key
As researchers try to find a cure for dementia, more and more studies are looking at ways to help reduce the risk of developing the condition in the first place.
It’s important to remember that dementia is a complex, multifaceted condition caused by a variety of diseases. Many factors are thought to contribute to cognitive decline, including age, genetics, lifestyle, environment, and other co-existing medical conditions. While some of these risk factors cannot be changed, lifestyle factors are one area we can target to help prevent or slow the progress of the condition.
Studies show that there are several key lifestyle factors we can leverage to improve our brain health: physical activity, cognitive activity, social connection, dietary habits, sleep hygiene, and stress reduction.
This article aims to highlight the dietary interventions we can focus on to promote optimal cognitive function.
Eating for a Healthy Brain
The connection between a healthy diet and the prevention of disease has been studied time and time again. So, it’s no surprise that researchers are interested in looking at the connection between nutrition and dementia prevention.
As we age, our bodies become less efficient at keeping things running smoothly. Oxidative stress, cellular damage, and chronic inflammation are thought to play a role in the decline of cognitive function in older adults. Many foods and their individual components have been looked at for their ability to reduce chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.
Both the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet and the Mediterranean Diet have been studied as possible eating patterns to promote brain health. They are considered by experts to be some of the healthiest diets due to their ability to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. However, researchers were also interested in developing a diet that was specifically designed to promote brain health and prevent dementia.
And so, they created the MIND Diet.
The MIND Diet: What Exactly Is It?
The MIND Diet is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH Diet. It stands for the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. The MIND Diet takes the ten most brain-benefitting foods from both of these diets and combines them into one diet.
At the moment, there are no specific guidelines on how to follow the MIND Diet. The diet simply suggests ten foods to include more of in your diet and five foods you should limit.
The MIND Diet: 10 Foods to Eat for Better Brain Health
To follow the MIND Diet, eat more of these ten foods:
- Dark, leafy green vegetables (6 or more servings weekly): Rich in phylloquinone, lutein, and folate, these compounds may be associated with slowed cognitive decline according to a 2018 study. Includes kale, spinach, swiss chard, collard greens, romaine, salad greens, brussels sprouts, and broccoli.
- Other vegetables (aim for 2 cups daily): Includes zucchini, summer squash, winter squashes, green beans, peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, corn, eggplant, peppers, celery, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, and garlic.
- Berries (2 or more servings weekly): Berries are rich in flavonoids, primarily anthocyanidins. These antioxidants have been shown to reduce cognitive decline in older adults. Includes strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
- Nuts (5 or more servings weekly): Nuts have been associated with improved vascular health, which in turn could mean a reduced risk of cognitive decline. Walnuts specifically are high in ALA, an essential fatty acid associated with brain health. Includes walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios, macadamias, hazelnuts, and cashews.
- Olive oil: Use as your primary oil in cooking and in dressings.
- Whole grains (3 servings daily): Includes oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, bread, and crackers, farro, wheat berries, polenta, popcorn, amaranth, barley, and bulgur wheat.
- Fatty fish (1 or more servings weekly): High in omega-3 fatty acids, consuming fatty fish once a week may be associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Includes salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, and mackerel.
- Beans (4 or more servings weekly): Includes black beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, kidney beans, navy beans, cannellini beans, black-eyed peas, soybeans, and lentils.
- Poultry (2 or more servings weekly): Includes chicken, turkey, and duck.
- Red wine (no more than 1 glass daily): A compound in red wine called resveratrol is thought to be protective against Alzheimer’s disease.
As you can see, the MIND Diet includes a variety of healthy foods. You don’t have to eat only these foods to follow the MIND Diet. However, aim to consume the recommended amounts of all of these foods each day or week to reap the most benefits.
The MIND Diet: 5 Foods to Avoid
It is recommended to limit these 5 foods when following the MIND Diet:
- Cheese: Consume less than once per week.
- Butter and margarine: Aim for less than 1 tablespoon daily. Use olive oil instead.
- Red meat: No more than 3 servings each week. Includes beef, pork, and lamb.
- Fried foods: Less than once per week. Fried foods are highly discouraged on the MIND Diet.
- Pastries and sweets: Limit to 4 servings per week or less. Includes ice cream, cake, cookies, brownies, donuts, candy, and others.
The common thread between these foods are their high saturated and trans fat content. Both fats may be associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Overall, the MIND Diet is a well-balanced diet that many people would benefit from following. Including more of these brain-boosting foods in your diet will help you feel healthy, happy, and clear-minded all day long.