A nutritious diet helps keep you physically strong, and now, there's promising evidence that it keeps your mind sharp, too. Studies show that following the MIND diet — with its emphasis on leafy greens and berries — can boost brain health and slow cognitive decline.
Some of the risk factors of Alzheimer's can't be changed, such as age and genetics. But one thing you can control is what you eat. Research suggests that certain diets can be effective at slowing down early changes in the brain and impact other Alzheimer's risk factors such as diabetes and heart disease.
Specifically, an eating pattern called the MIND diet has been shown to significantly delay or prevent dementia symptoms by up to 7.5 years.
The MIND diet stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It draws on the principles of two diets shown to slow cognitive decline:
The MIND diet is similar to the Mediterranean and DASH diets because it emphasizes plant-based foods and limits intake of animal and saturated fats. However, MIND focuses specifically on foods that help protect against dementia.
Whether you're enjoying a meal in our dining room at Bethesda Gardens or eating out at a Phoenix restaurant, use the MIND diet as a guideline for adding brain-healthy foods into your diet.
While Mediterranean diets are rich in all kinds of vegetables, the MIND diet shifts the focus to leafy greens. These nutrient-rich foods are chock full of vitamin E, folate, carotenoids and flavonoids. One study found that people who consumed the largest servings of dark leafy greens each day (1.3 servings) were an average of 11 years younger cognitively than those consuming less (0.09 servings).
The MIND diet recommends at least six servings of leafy greens per week. This is equivalent to a half-cup cooked or 1 cup of raw kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collards, arugula, romaine, endive and dandelion greens.
It's important to add variety to your diet with vegetables besides leafy greens.
Aim for at least one serving of a vegetable other than leafy greens every day. Any veggie will do, so pick a favorite, whether it's carrots, broccoli, peas, cauliflower, squash, artichoke, eggplant, bell peppers or asparagus.
Fruit is an important part of a healthy diet, providing nutrients such as vitamin C, dietary fiber, potassium and folate. While the American Heart Association recommends four servings of fruit per day, the MIND diet doesn't have guidelines for overall fruit consumption. It does, however, single out a specific type of fruit to help improve memory and slow cognitive decline: berries. Berries contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that can protect against age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
Reach for a minimum of two servings of berries per week, such as strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and cranberries. You can easily add berries into your diet by keeping in-season fruit in your assisted living kitchenette. Blueberries, for example, are at their peak in Arizona in June and early July. Enjoy fresh berries on their own or mix them with plain yogurt and honey.
When following the MIND diet, aim for five servings of nuts per week. Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts and chestnuts all boost brain health.
Sprinkle a handful of crushed walnuts on your breakfast oatmeal or slivered almonds on your lunchtime salad. You can also keep a jar of your favorite nuts in your assisted living apartment to snack on while watching TV or reading.
Salmon, sardines, herring, tuna and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and can reduce the risk of dementia. Mediterranean diets, which contain little to no red meat, often center around fish.
The MIND diet recommends one serving of fish per week to boost cognitive abilities. A tuna sandwich, steamed halibut or baked cod does the trick, but it's best to avoid fried fish or fish sticks.
The MIND diet calls for two servings of chicken or turkey per week. For best health benefits, choose skinless white meat that's grilled, broiled or roasted.
Aim for at least three servings of whole grains every day. Try a half-cup of oats for breakfast, a sandwich made with whole grain bread for lunch and a serving of brown or wild rice with dinner. Barley, bulgur, farro, quinoa, whole grain cereal and whole grain pasta are other good choices.
Beans and legumes are nutrient-rich plant proteins. Choose three servings of beans and legumes each week, such as black, cannellini, pinto, kidney and lima beans. Other options include edamame and tofu. Tuck a container of hummus into your assisted living kitchenette to have as a dip for veggies when you're hungry.
With its focus on plant-based foods, the MIND diet limits consumption of red meat, sugar, cheese, butter, margarine and processed foods. It also recommends that dishes be prepared with olive oil instead of butter.