The MIND Diet: Ten Foods for Brain Health
It is not just our elderly who are looking for wellness solutions to support longer, healthier lifespans, many younger people are looking to address longevity related health concerns in a proactive preventative manner.
Brain health is key among those health concerns. Optimization of brain function is an endeavor that seeks to improve and preserve memory, cognition, improve knowledge retention, alertness, focus and concentration.
The brain may take up only 2% of body weight but it uses about 25% of the body’s energy. We know that long term stress can negatively impact brain function so changing a few foods is a good strategy to ameliorate these effects and may serve our long term cognition.
Many people are familiar with the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, a natural plant based diet built around foods commonly eaten in Southern Italy, Spain and Greece. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is another largely plant based diet that was created as a food first way to manage high blood pressure.
The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH diet. The foods included in the MIND diet were specifically found to support brain health and prevent decline of brain function. MIND is an acronym for Mediterranean-DASH diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay and if you can remember that name by the end of the article, you are probably doing okay cognitively.
The research supporting the MIND diet was published by Dr Martha Morris in 2015. It has shown that following the diet closely is associated with a 53% reduction in risk for Alzheimer’s disease and that even following the diet moderately resulted in a 35% reduction in risk. The message here is that even small changes made regularly can lead to significant changes over time, a promising strategy.
The Mediterranean and DASH diets both emphasize plant based eating patterns that are associated with better heart health, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. The MIND diet is a dietary pattern that captures those health benefits, but that has been associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. Alzheimer’s accounts for about 60-80% of dementia in the population and takes a significant toll on both sufferers and families. Strategies to reduce or delay its onset are important preventative measures to reduce the disease burden.
Ten Foods for Brain Health
Aim for at least 6 servings/week.
Greens are rich with nutrients that are protective to the brain. Of note, lutein, a pigment found in leafy greens among other foods, is concentrated in the brain and believed to improve memory and brain function. Greens also contain Vitamin K, which is used to build brain cell membranes and keep your brain cells stable. Folate and magnesium are other key brain nutrients found in abundance in leafy greens.
Choose spinach, chard, lettuce, kale, as cooked greens or in salads.
Note. if you are taking blood thinning medications, it is important to discuss changing your intake of leafy greens with your primary care provider
2. Other Vegetables
At least 1 serving/day in addition to leafy greens.
Aiming for a variety of colours will provide a range of brain protective effects.
At least 2 serving/ week
For example, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, and strawberries.Keep some frozen mixed berries on hand in your freezer.
Berries are rich in flavonoids, phytonutrients that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colours. Notably, the anthocyanins found in blueberries may protect brain cells from inflammatory damage and improve blood flow thus enhancing memory and slowing age related decline.
4. Fish: Source of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
At least 1 serving/week
Salmon, mackerel, trout, tuna and herring - are rich sources of omega-3.
Fish are nutrient dense and an important source of omega-3 fatty acids, fats that are essential for our wellbeing. Fats are densely packed into the brain and are involved in maintaining nerve cell structure and function. Studies have linked omega-3 fats to better communication between brain cells
5. Whole Grains
At least 3 servings a day
Choose whole grains such as oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, barley.
Whole grains are rich in magnesium, a mineral that helps to improve the connections and communication channels between our brain cells. They are also rich in B vitamins which assist in nerve cell function and brain chemistry. Their role in gut health and the gut brain connection may protect brain health. To learn more about whole grains, see my article A Grain of Truth.
Walnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, hazelnuts etc.
Nuts are rich sources of Vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin that prevents damage in fatty areas of the body, the brain being a prime target. Nuts are also a great source of healthy fats for brain health and supporting blood flow to the brain.
At least 2 servings/week
Chicken, turkey, duck, goose
Poultry is a great source of high quality protein and B vitamins, especially vitamin B12 and iron. B vitamins are important for nerve function and contribute to brain health.
More than 3 servings/week
These include, black beans, kidney beans, soy beans. Well rinsed canned beans are quick and easy.
Beans are rich in nutrients that promote brain health. Vitamin B6 is important in the production of a variety of brain chemicals. The nutrients found in beans can also help to slow age-related memory loss and cognitive decline.
9. Olive Oil
Reach for cold pressed extra virgin olive oil as your main cooking oil.
Olive oil is a rich source of healthy monosaturated fats and beneficial antioxidants that may help clear dead or damaged cell debris from the brain environment.
Red wine is the most studied in this capacity. It is a source of resveratrol, a potent antioxidant. However, scientists are still sorting out the science of resveratrol and how it might support human health. Studies have shown that low doses of alcohol may improve levels of healthy cholesterol (HDL) in the blood.
Limit Your Intake of the Following Five Foods
1. Butter/margarine - less than 1 tablespoon per day
2. Cheese - less than 1 serving a week
3. Pastries and Sweets - less than 5 servings/week
4. Fried or Fast Food - less than one serving/week
5. Red Meat - less than or not more than 3 times/week
Brain Health Beyond Food
Food is one aspect of brain health, albeit important. Adequate sleep, regular exercise, dancing, contact with nature and social interactions also contribute to long term brain health. Look for my upcoming article on herbs, spices and brain health.
All content provided on this website is for general information purposes only and is not intended to replace medical or specialist advice.
A qualified Medical Herbalist is always your best resource for information related to herbal medicines.
Registered Dietitians are a reliable and trusted resource for nutrition related information, always up to date and always ready to work with you to realise your goals.