How often has your mom told you to eat your vegetables? Countless times. Now, in your 50s it’s better to be wise and follow her advice, especially if you want to slow down brain ageing.
Although several factors play into whether you will suffer from cognitive decline and develop Alzheimer’s disease – such as lifestyle, health conditions, environment, and genetics – now there is scientific evidence indicating that diet plays a bigger role in brain health than we ever thought before.
What is the MIND Diet?
The MIND diet, in particular, might be the ultimate solution to prevent dementia and loss of brain function as we age, as well as a way to decrease oxidative stress and inflammation. According to research, people who stuck to this plan lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 54%. And, even more importantly, adults who followed the diet only part of the time still cut their risk of the disease by about 35%.
Created by a team at Rush University Medical Center, headed by the late Martha Clare Morris (a nutritional epidemiologist), the MIND plan – a hybrid of the DASH and Mediterranean diets – emphasizes the intake of berries, leafy greens such as kale and spinach, nuts, legumes, fatty fish and whole grains as healthy food that have been scientifically proven to slow cognitive decline.
Food studies show that vegetables are important for our health – Martha Clare Morris wrote in her book ‘Diet For The Mind‘ -, but green leafy vegetables show up in research as particularly protective, so we recommend people eat things like spinach, kale, collards, or romaine at least six times a week.
However, fruits which are stressed in the Mediterranean and DASH diets, are not specifically recommended in the MIND diet, except for berries.
No studies on cognitive decline have found an association with fruits as a general category – she explained. But berries like strawberries and blueberries have been shown to decrease neuron loss and improve memory performance in several studies.
Basic guidelines for the MIND Diet
To benefit from the plan, we would need to eat at least three servings of whole grains, a green leafy vegetable and one other vegetable every day, along with a glass of wine, snack most days on nuts, have beans every other day, eat poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week. Unhealthy foods should be limited to less than 1 tablespoon of butter a day, and less than one serving a week of items such as sweets and pastries, whole fat cheese and fried or fast food.
Following the MIND diet is fairly easy. However, some people might find it quite challenging, especially when they have to change their daily routine. Having a green salad and one other vegetable every day and snacking on nuts might be simple to do, but how about eating three servings of whole grains every day? Before you give up, just think that one slice of bread is a serving, so that goal can be met with oatmeal for breakfast and a sandwich on whole-grain bread for lunch, rice or barley soup for dinner.
Some people might also argue that berries can be expensive, particularly out of season, but frozen berries are just as nutritious as fresh ones and are perfect for smoothies or yoghurt all year round. And for ladies who don’t like to cook, beans are a perfect choice. Rinsed canned beans can be tossed into salads; stirred into prepared soups or stews, served over brown rice with some simple herbs and spices for a truly brain-boosting meal.
Will MIND Diet help you lose weight?
It’s possible you will lose weight by following the MIND diet. While the MIND study was not geared toward weight loss, the brain-unhealthy foods frowned upon in this regimen – such as whole dairy products, pastries, sweets and fried foods – are also tied to weight gain. By avoiding these foods, you might take off pounds while warding off dementia. As for the two diets on which MIND was based, some research has linked the Mediterranean diet to weight loss or being less likely to be overweight or obese. As with the DASH diet, you could lose weight on MIND, especially if you design your personal plan with a calorie deficit.
One of the theories behind its health benefits is that foods emphasized on the MIND diet are rich in antioxidants, which can reduce oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is defined as an imbalance between the production of free radicals and antioxidant defences, and prolonged exposure can cause cell damage – particularly to the brain. Additionally, because the MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, it’s thought to have a similar effect on improving heart health and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, both of which are risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.