We eat certain types of foods and beverages to fuel our muscles, strengthen our bones and reduce our blood sugar and blood pressure, so what can we eat to power our brain? Sheryl Lozicki, Registered Dietitian and the Director of Nutrition and Wellness at Mercy Health, talks with us about foods that do just that. With Alzheimer's disease, dementia and mental decline on the rise due to our aging population, it's important for us to nourish our brains with these healthy nutrients to prevent or at least slow down these changes from happening.
In the Spring of 2015, Rush University Medical Center published their research on a diet created to do just that. The MIND Diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is a combination of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.) Rush researchers found that the MIND Diet may reduce your risk for Alzheimer's by up to 53 percent in people who closely follow The MIND Diet guidelines and 35 percent in moderate followers. Both of these diets alone do a great job of reducing your risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure, but when combined power your brain in a way that neither one does independent of the other. Better yet, it’s easy to follow and has become one of the top rated diets in a very short time!
How It Fuels Your Brain Health
Fruits & Vegetables
3 or more, ½ cup cooked servings per week
Lentils, chickpeas, kidney, pinto and black beans are all a great source of B vitamins that help neurons communicate, reduce fatigue and enhance our mood. Beans are also a good source of phytochemicals and glucose, the brain's preferred energy source. Fiber enhances blood sugar control, reducing blood vessel damage and inflammation that occurs when sugars run too high or low. Fiber also ensures a steady stream of fuel to the brain and helps to lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure.
2 (or more) 1-cup servings per week
Strawberries and blueberries get a special shout out in this diet, so stock up! Berries are polyphenol-rich, phytochemicals that help fight the free radicals that damage cells causing inflammation and plaque build-up.
Dark Leafy Greens
6 or more servings per week (1/2 cup cooked, 1 cup raw)
Examples include: spinach, kale, collards, Swiss chard, broccoli, romaine and leaf lettuce. Dark leafy greens are rich in folate, a vitamin linked to mental impairment and depression. They too are phytochemical rich vegetables containing plentiful amounts of Vitamin K, beta-carotene and lutein, which may preserve brain function.
1 or more servings per day (1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw)
Vegetables in general are a great source of phytochemicals, antioxidants and fiber that help fight infection, reduce inflammation and control blood sugar.
3 or more servings per day (1 slice bread, ¾ cup cold cereal, ½ cup rice, pasta or hot cereal and ¼ cup quinoa)
Whole grains help lower LDL cholesterol and control blood sugar. Examples include whole grain breads and pasta, brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal and whole grain ready-to-eat cereals.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
Make it your main oil
Oleocanthal, found in EVOO, boosts the production of key enzymes that breakdown plaque like those found in Alzheimer's. This plaque would otherwise build up around the brain's nerve cells as tangles form inside cells. This combination disrupts brain cell communication and brain cells die. Olive oil is also rich in monounsaturated fat that reduces inflammation and plaque build-up in our arteries.
2 or more, 3 oz servings per week
White meat chicken and turkey eaten without the skin are leaner sources of protein that lower your intake of saturated fat when substituted for red meat.
1 or more, 3 oz serving per
Eating Omega-3 DHA fatty fish such as tuna, trout, salmon, sardines and herring are rich in DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid essential for brain function. A higher DHA intake may slow brain aging, improve memory and thinking skills. It may also reduce the oxidative stress, slowing plaque build up.
1 oz or more, 5 days per week (about ¼ cup)
Walnuts may reign supreme when it comes to brain health, much like strawberries and blueberries. However, all types of nuts are beneficial due to their combination of Vitamin E, Omega-3, antioxidants, protein and fiber which make them a powerful combination of nutrients that fight inflammation, lower LDL cholesterol, control blood sugar and blood pressure and nourish your brain.
1 serving per day (5 oz for females, 10 oz for males)
Resveratrol found in red grapes may help reduce the amyloid, plaque build-up in the brain. Moderate consumption is key! Over indulging raises blood sugar and pressure increasing inflammation of which the tiny blood vessels in the brain are highly susceptible to damage.
Items you should eat less of include:
· Red meat, limit to less than 4 servings per week
· Butter or margarine, less than 1 Tbsp. per day
· Cheese, less than one serving (1 ounce) per week
· Pastries and sweets, less than 5 servings per week• The study found that people with diets
· Fried and fast food, less than one serving per week
These foods are too be avoided because they are high in fats that cause plaque build up or increase inflammation such as saturated, trans fat and Omega-6 fats.
It’s This Easy!
Breakfast: Enjoy oatmeal with walnuts, Greek yogurt or whole grain waffles topped with berries, or whole grain toast with avocado and an egg.
Lunch and Dinner: Add a salad to one and a vegetable to the other. Add 1/2 cup beans or lentils to your salad, soup or as a stand alone side dish. Always use extra virgin olive oil to sauté your vegetables and when cooking. Brown rice, brown whole grain bread or pasta and quinoa replace the processed white stuff. Limit yourself to one glass of red wine .
Snacks: Berries and nuts rule!
Not so Easy? If cheese and red wine alone or together, invited in by an 8-ounce serving of prime rib is your Achilles’ heal, remember, even those moderately compliant had a 35 percent reduction in Alzheimer’s!
In addition to powering your brain with The MIND Diet, be sure to 1) get adequate rest, 2) limit your alcohol consumption, 3) be socially active, 4) keep learning, and 5) get regular physical activity. Each of these can reduce your risk for mental decline. While much more research is needed on the potential success of the MIND diet, it’s a five-star diet for anyone to follow, good for your brain, your heart and your health.