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MIND Your Diet for Better Brain Health

Kathryn Parker by Kathryn Parker, RD, LD/N , Dietitian
January 6, 2022

Some people diet to lose weight. Others diet to lower blood pressure or improve heart health. But there’s one diet that has the potential to provide all those benefits plus delay or deter the onset of cognitive decline: The MIND diet.

The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet is a blend of two highly effective diets—Mediterranean and DASH. The MIND diet is different because it is designed to target brain health and reduce the risk of some neurological diseases like dementia. The Mediterranean diet mainly focuses on a heart-healthy eating plan. DASH aims to treat or prevent hypertension or high blood pressure. The MIND diet encourages the consumption of a variety of foods that ultimately benefit the nervous system and cognitive health, but incorporates concepts from the other two popular diets, making it beneficial from head to toe.

At Aviv Clinics, our clinical team includes nutritional coaching support for every client because of the importance of diet when it comes to cognitive health. In fact, key findings of an Iowa State University research study suggest that diet may help reduce or prevent cognitive decline. Preventing or delaying dementia is critical as the National Institutes of Health predict that the population of 6.2 million Americans ages 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s dementia could grow to 13.8 million by 2060. Making smarter choices about what we eat could reverse that troubling trend.

Essentials for the brain

Your brain needs specific nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids for strengthening brain cell structure; choline to help regulate memory, mood, and cognitive performance; flavonoids for regulating inflammation and improving blood flow; Vitamin E for protection against inflammation; and B vitamins for breaking down amino acids. The MIND diet provides all those essential nutrients.

The diet omits or limits foods with ingredients that could negatively impact the brain, like saturated fats and trans fats, which are believed to be responsible for increasing beta-amyloid protein levels in the brain. This protein accumulates in the brain and can disrupt communication between brain cells and ultimately lead to brain cell death.

Eating foods that contain these unhealthy fats have been associated with a double risk of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Examples of foods containing saturated fats and trans fats are red meats, processed foods, and fried foods, which can affect cognition.

Foods containing antioxidants and vitamins—like what’s suggested as part of the MIND diet—may prevent the formation of these beta-amyloid plaques in the brain. Plant-based foods, which contain phytonutrients and antioxidants, include fruits and vegetables for example.

More than half of your brain is made up of omega-3 fats. Your body needs foods rich in omega-3 fats to provide the necessary protective anti-inflammatory benefits. Inflammation increases the beta-amyloid plaques as well as the risk for neurodegeneration.

The healthier polyunsaturated fats found in fish oils, flax seed, walnuts, and cold-water fish for example, and monounsaturated fats, which have anti-inflammatory properties, obtained from eating avocado, nuts, and seeds, all provide the essential omega-3 and omega-9 fats for optimum brain health.

Brain-healthy foods

People following the MIND diet eat foods rich in phytonutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants, especially:

  • Green, leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, and cooked green salads. Aim for six or more servings per week.
  • All other vegetables in a variety of colors. Shoot for one of these in addition to the green, leafy vegetables at least once a day.
  • Berries. Touted for their antioxidant benefits, berries should be eaten twice per week. Examples: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries.
  • Nuts. Vary the type of nuts you eat to reap an array of nutrients. Try to get five servings of nuts or more a week. Watch your calories.
  • Olive oil. Use olive oil as your main cooking oil. Watch your portions.
  • Whole grains. Oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, and 100% whole-wheat bread are healthy whole grain options. Aim for at least three servings daily.
  • Fish. Choose fatty fish like salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and mackerel for their high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Aim for a fish serving at least once a week.
  • Beans, lentils and soybeans. Include beans in at least four meals every week.
  • Poultry. Incorporate chicken or turkey at least twice per week. Avoid fried chicken.
  • Wine. Either white or red wine, one glass daily, is acceptable. Red wine’s compound resveratrol may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Foods to limit or avoid

  • Butter and margarine. If you can’t resist, limit your intake to less than one tablespoon daily.
  • Cheese. Limit your cheese consumption to less than once per week.
  • Red meat. Aim for no more than three servings each week. Meats included are beef, pork, lamb, and products made from them.
  • Fried food. The MIND diet highly discourages fried food, especially from fast-food restaurants. Limit consumption to less than once per week.
  • Pastries and sweets. Processed junk food and desserts are unhealthy. Limit your intake of ice cream, cookies, brownies, snack cakes, doughnuts, candy, and other sweets to no more than four times a week.

 

How to make the MIND diet work for you

The MIND diet is easy to follow. Plus, the more variety of fruits and vegetables you incorporate the better. It’s best to choose fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season, but frozen or canned alternatives are acceptable.

If you do choose frozen or canned fruits or vegetables, drain and place them in a bowl of water for about 20 minutes to leach any added preservatives or flavoring the manufacturer may have included.

If you experience intestinal issues after eating a fruit or vegetable that’s out of season, it could be because the food wasn’t able to mature naturally, which makes it more difficult for your body’s digestive system to break it down. A good way to ensure you’re practicing seasonal eating is buying produce from your local farmer’s market.

The MIND diet encourages a diversity of healthy foods designed to deliver a multitude of brain health benefits. If you’re not a big fruit eater, then consume more vegetables. If you’re not a fan of vegetables, choose more fruit varieties. The goal is to reap the benefits of the brain-healthy nutrients found in these two food groups.

The bottom line

Researchers are learning more and more about the link between cognition and dieting. As you age and the risk of developing memory disorders like dementia increase, laying a firm foundation for healthier eating will become vital to maintaining quality of life.

Get started on the MIND diet with our easy-to-use shopping list of all the foods that help optimize your brain health and performance.

As leaders in brain performance, the expert clinicians at Aviv Clinics help keep your mind and body healthy for years to come. With hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) at its core, the ground-breaking Aviv Medical Program enhances cognitive and physical function and triggers the body’s natural capabilities at self-regeneration.

Contact us for a free consultation and learn about how our nutritional coaching will enhance the benefits of the Aviv Medical Program.

Aviv Medical Program provides you with a unique opportunity to invest in your health while you age.

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