We’re big fans of good nutrition as a way to improve your physical health and manage chronic illness. Did you know the foods you eat can also help protect your brain and reduce your risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?
Nearly half of Alzheimer’s cases are caused by risk factors that are within our control. This makes what we eat—along with factors such as sleep, physical activity, and stress management—especially important!
Researchers have found that people who eat a diet filled with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory fats are able to keep their brains healthier for longer. They named this eating pattern the MIND diet. MIND stands for the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. That’s a fancy way of saying researchers believe that aspects of two popular diets, the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, may reduce dementia and age-related declines in brain health.
So which foods should you eat to nourish and protect your brain?
1. Leafy greens and vegetables
Aim for six or more cups of leafy greens per week, and try to include one cup of other vegetables each day, as well.
2. Berries and fruit
Eat two cups of berries each week. Fresh and frozen are both good, nutrient-rich choices. Try making a smoothie with frozen berries, top toast with peanut butter and cut up strawberries, or add blueberries to your yogurt, salad, or oatmeal.
3. Nuts and seeds
Eat five servings of nuts or seeds (one serving is 1/4-cup nuts or 2 tablespoons of seeds) per week. Mixed nuts like walnuts, cashews, almonds, and pistachios make for a good snack or topping for oatmeal. You can also add chia seeds or hemp seeds to a smoothie or oatmeal.
4. Beans and legumes
Aim for two cups of beans per week. Need some ideas? Mix black beans with ground turkey for tacos, eat hummus with pita and vegetables as a snack, or toss kidney beans in your soup or salad.
5. Whole grains
Eat three servings of whole grains (one serving is 1 slice of bread or 1/2-cup cooked grains) each day. Try whole grain versions of foods you may already like, such as whole wheat spaghetti, brown rice, or whole wheat bread. Or try a new grain like quinoa, barley, or farro.
6. Healthy fats
Use olive oil as when cooking with low heat (try avocado oil or grapeseed oil for roasting or cooking at higher temperatures). Include other healthy, unsaturated fats from foods like avocado, nuts, and fatty fish.
Limit your intake of red meat. Better choices include fatty fish (try a four-ounce serving of salmon, trout, sardines, or tuna each week) and poultry (aim for two servings per week).
8. Spices and herbs
Use fresh herbs and spices in at least one meal per day. Try fresh ginger in a stir-fry, top your chicken with basil pesto, drink peppermint tea, or top any meal with chopped parsley, cilantro, rosemary, or thyme.
9. Fermented foods
Eat fermented foods—like yogurt, miso, kombucha, kefir, apple cider vinegar, or tempeh—each week. These foods nourish your digestive system, a system that plays a surprisingly big role in brain health!
Wondering what not to eat? Foods to limit because they are not especially nutrient-dense and lacking in brain-protecting antioxidants are:
- Red meat
- Sweets and pastries
- Fried foods
Ready for the best news? You don’t have to follow this diet exactly to see benefits. Scientists studying this type of eating pattern found that following the diet even moderately can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease over time. So grab a bowl of blueberries and say “no, thank you” to that packaged cupcake from the convenience store…your body and brain will both thank you!
Meghan Perkins is Project Angel Heart’s registered dietitian. After a semester studying baking and pastry arts at culinary school, Meghan quickly found her passion for clinical nutrition and transferred to the University of Northern Colorado to earn her bachelor’s degree in dietetics. Meghan has worked in clinical and private practice settings, educating patients about how their food choices impact their health with an emphasis on CKD, diabetes, heart disease, celiac disease, and weight management. In her free time, Meghan enjoys exploring Denver by bike with her husband, trying new coffee and tea shops, hiking in Crested Butte, and relaxing with her dog Barney.