Eating For Brain Health

Food for Brain HealthThere is already a substantial body of evidence supporting the use of the Mediterranean diet to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. Rich in vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, whole grains, protein and olive oil, this diet is naturally low in ‘junk’ food meaning a reduction in sugar and highly processed fried food.

Researchers are finding that eating this kind of diet is also associated with improved mood and a reduced risk of depression and cognitive decline. Enjoying a collection of nourishing foods can feed the brain the right combination of nutrients, which help boost serotonin, the neurotransmitter that’s responsible for happiness and well-being. It also allows the brain to be properly fed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to combat oxidative stress and reduce cellular damage to brain cells.

Similar to the mediterranean diet, the snappily named Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, (or MIND diet!) adds extra emphasis on eating berries, leafy greens and nuts.

A 2015 study undertaken by a research team at Chicago’s Rush University found that those who rigorously followed the MIND diet had improved cognitive abilities and reduced their risk for Alzheimer’s by an impressive 53%. Even those who made modest changes to their diets still reduced their Alzheimer’s risk by 35%. However, the longer and more closely the MIND diet was followed, the better the outcome with those who most closely followed the diet’s recommendations having brains equivalent to someone 7.5 years younger. The important thing to take from this study is that you don’t have to follow the diet religiously in order to obtain the benefits.

MIND diet foods to include:

• Whole grains — 3 or more servings per day
• Green leafy vegetables — 6 servings per week
• Other vegetables — 1 serving per day
• Nuts — 5 servings per week
• Berries — 2 or more servings per week
• Beans or legumes — 3 or more servings per week
• Fish — 1 or more serving per week
• Poultry — 2 or more servings per week
• Wine — 1 serving per day
• Olive oil — use as the main cooking oil

Studies show that there is no one specific superfood that has the most powerful effect on brain health. It’s the synergistic effect of all the foods on the MIND diet that result in the positive effects on the brain and body.

In contrast, the typical unhealthy Western diets that include excessive amounts of sugar, salty snacks, processed and fried foods have been associated with worsening of symptoms of depression, and an increased risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.

MIND diet foods to be cautious of:

• Pastries and sweets — less than 5 servings per week
• Red meat — less than 4 servings per week
• Cheese — less than 1 serving per week
• Fried or fast food — less than 1 serving per week
• Butter and margarine — less than 1 tablespoon per day

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Liam Leech, BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science, MSc. ANutr.

Liam Leech

Liam Leech ANutr.
MSc. Human Nutrition, University of Ulster
BSc (Hons) Sport & Exercise Science, Loughborough University



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