Brain Health: Minding Your Diet for Brain Benefits

by Karen D. Sullivan, PhD, ABPP

With the variety of popular diets touting specific benefits, there is one brain-centric option that researchers believe provides a better option for a healthy brain and body in the MIND diet. An aptly named acronym for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, this diet combines the ideals of whole and natural foods and those lower in sodium, benefiting both the brain and heart. The MIND diet was developed by Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center epidemiologist Dr. Martha Claire Morris. Her intention was to create an easy-to-follow, evidence-based diet that lowers the risk of developing dementia. The MIND diet focuses on consuming 10 healthy food types regularly while avoiding five specific unhealthy food categories.

Think Natural

According to the MIND diet, put these healthy foods at the top of your grocery list for meal planning: 

  • Beans
  • Berries
  • Fish
  • Green, leafy vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Poultry
  • Olive oil
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Wine

Add three servings of whole grains (whole grain bread, oatmeal, brown rice, etc.) and a fresh salad to your daily routine. Grab a handful of nuts for a daily snack and a serving of berries, especially blueberries, at least twice a week. Every other day, add another fresh vegetable, especially green, leafy vegetables, like spinach, collards, kale and greens, and a serving of beans. At least twice per week, have a serving of poultry and once a week, fish. If desired, have one glass of wine per day.

Know Your Limits

According to the MIND diet, make an effort to limit or stop eating these unhealthy foods, consuming no more than one serving per week, excluding butter, which is only recommended to be a tablespoon or less per day:

  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Fried food/fast food
  • Red meats
  • Sweets/pastries

Dr. Morris’s study results, which were funded by the National Institute on Aging, followed more than 900 older adults over 10 years. Participants who strictly followed the diet lowered their risk for developing dementia by as much as 53 percent. The findings earned the MIND diet the third in the Best Diets Overall by U.S. News & World Report, falling after the diets it was derived from, the DASH and Mediterranean. Although more research is needed, particularly large, population-based studies, Dr. Morris’s MIND diet is the only established diet with evidence of reducing cognitive decline in people over 65.

The MIND diet offers a realistic set of guidelines for making healthier food choices with its evidence-based research suggesting that even moderate adherence to this diet may result in a protective benefit against dementia. However, it is important to remember that, as is the case with all diets, the foods that we tout for their brain-boosting powers have to be consumed alongside other lifestyle choices to truly have a benefit, like consistent cardiovascular exercise, socialization, cognitive stimulation and spiritual connection.

Dr. Karen Sullivan, a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist, owner of Pinehurst Neuropsychology Brain & Memory Clinic and creator of the I CARE FOR YOUR BRAIN program, can be reached at 910-420-8041 or by visiting www.pinehurstneuropsychology.com or www.icfyb.com.