Eating for Optimal Brain Health: The MIND Diet
Numerous benefits stem from following a healthy diet and lifestyle, nutrition serves a major role in the aging process, disease prevention, and overall quality of life.
Part of prioritizing our physical health means taking care of our brains as well. While it is becoming more common knowledge that diet and exercise can positively impact both physical and mental health, scientists continue to uncover new findings concerning nutrition’s role in overall brain health. These discoveries include specific diets and foods that have the potential to help improve and preserve brain function.
As our population continues to age, the need to keep our minds and memory sharp and focused is more relevant than ever. The MIND diet, a nutrition plan targeting the health of the aging brain, has recently gained significant momentum as several research studies reveal its potential in improving overall brain health and reducing cognitive decline that occurs with aging. Through this mostly plant-based diet plan, with emphasis on limited animal and highly saturated fatty foods, this “brain healthy” diet has come into the limelight.
The guidelines of the MIND diet promote the consumption of:
· 3+ servings a day of whole grains
· 1+ servings a day of vegetables (other than green leafy)
· 6+ servings a week of green leafy vegetables
· 5+ servings a week of nuts
· 4+ meals a week of beans
· 2+ servings a week of berries
· 2+ meals a week of poultry
· 1+ meals a week of fish and
· Olive oil (for cooking, dressings, added fat, etc.).
It also suggests limiting the consumption of foods high in unsaturated and trans fat such as:
· Less than 5 servings a week of pastries and sweets
· Less than 4 servings a week of red meat (including beef, pork, lamb, and products made from these meats)
· Less than 1 serving a week of cheese and fried foods
· Less than 1 tablespoon a day of butter/stick margarine
The MIND diet, similar in idea to the Mediterranean and DASH diets, was originally studied to determine its possible effects on the onset or slowed progression of dementia. It contains nutrient-dense and vitamin-rich foods that are believed to have protective effects on the brain by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. In one study, researchers found a 53% lower rate of Alzheimer’s disease for those with the highest MIND diet compliance score. Even after adjusting for factors associated with dementia including healthy lifestyle behaviors, cardiovascular-related conditions (e.g., high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes), depression, and obesity, the results from the study found the MIND diet to be associated with preserving cognitive function and promoting brain health.
Although the focus of the MIND diet is on brain health, these benefits extend to heart health, diabetes management, and certain cancers, as the foods included have been shown to lower the risk of these diseases.
The MIND diet does not include a rigid meal plan, which can prove to be a challenge for some who require more guidance, however, that is what we are here for as Registered Dietitians at Advice for Eating. This diet also does not restrict one from eating only the foods suggested, nor does it emphasize portion sizes or exercise. However, if brain health is a priority for you in your health journey, the MIND diet may be something to try and incorporate into your everyday lifestyle. Those who d not like to cook or prefer to spend their time at restaurants may find following this diet to be a challenge, however, “nothing in this life that is worth having comes easy” is a quote that comes to mind.
Overall, following a healthy lifestyle with plenty of nutrient-dense foods and exercise can significantly impact overall brain health, thus making nutrition a priority in anyone's health journey. When this diet incorporates balanced plates, it may also promote healthy weight loss (if desired). Currently, there is ongoing research going on to fully understand the MIND diet's role in reducing cognitive decline that occurs with aging.
Aging is inevitable, but by nourishing our MIND and body through nutrient-dense foods and exercise, we can promote our overall health and well-being and keep our memories as sharp as possible during the process.
Erika Richter, MS