There’s a new diet on the block.
It’s called the MIND diet, and unlike other diets which focus on weight loss or lowering your blood sugar, this one does just what the name suggests. It focuses on your brains. And it can cut your risk of Alzheimer’s by more than half.
The MIND diet focuses on 10 brain-boosting food groups and five not-so-healthy ones. It doesn’t ask you to count calories or measure portions. Instead it asks you go focus on what you should already be eating for a healthy you - real food, lots of vegetables and fruits, and more omega-3 fatty acids. And if you just can’t live without your favorite “forbidden” food that’s ok. Even people who followed the program “moderately well” had as much as a 35% reduction in their Alzheimer’s risk.
That’s pretty impressive.
So what should you be eating for your MIND? Here’s a breakdown of the 10 different food groups and some specific brain-healthy foods you should make a regular part of your diet.
Leafy greens are important for your brain
Greens like kale, spinach, and collard greens are nutritional powerhouses. Unfortunately, many of us simply don’t eat enough of them. Not only are they full of vitamins and minerals, they contain flavonoids, which slow the formation of beta-amyloid plaques found in Alzheimer’s. For optimal brain health, aim for adding a serving of leafy greens to one meal per day.
Eat the rainbow
Fresh vegetables of all kinds are a big part of healthy eating, whatever your goal. Eat a salad every day, and at least one other vegetable if you want to keep your brain healthy. Vegetables come in every color of the rainbow and an endless variety of flavors. Go beyond carrots and green beans and explore the possibilities.
Nuts pack a lot of nutrition into a tiny package. They’re a great source of healthy fats, and they’re high in antioxidants. Nuts, particularly almonds, are high in vitamin E, which may actually slow the advance of Alzheimer’s. Studies have even found that nuts can help lower cholesterol. So have a handful every day to give your brain some extra protection.
Eat berries at least twice a week
All fruits are good sources of vitamins and antioxidants, but berries are the only fruit the MIND diet specifically recommends. Blueberries and strawberries especially have been found to have a measurable effect on cognitive function. Fresh berries are best, but frozen ones run a close second. If you’re buying frozen berries, avoid those with added sugar or other sweetener.
Beans, beans, the magical fruit…er…legume
Beans and other legumes are good brain food. They’re high-protein, low-carb, and pack a serious nutritional punch. They’re also high in B vitamins, which protect against brain shrinkage. Legumes come in a huge variety of colors, shapes, and flavors. From the humble pinto bean to fresh-steamed edamame, legumes offer a variety of textures and flavors that can expand your menu and feed your brain. Have some three times per week for best brain health.
Whole grains - in moderation
The MIND diet recommends three servings of whole grains per day. This is one area that I take issue with. The high-carb diet we’ve been encouraged to eat for decades is one of the biggest reasons we’re overweight and diabetic. Grains are one of the things that we, as a nation, need to cut down on. Whole grains in moderation can be part of a healthy diet, but avoid wheat and choose grains with a low glycemic index. Examples are barley, oats, quinoa, and rye. And keep in mind that a serving is only about ½ cup.
Add fish to your diet
Fish are good sources of nutrients not readily available from other places. Fatty fish like salmon and trout are some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and are essential to brain health. Deep water fish like sardines and herrings are also good choices, as are cod and mackerel. Eat a 4-ounce serving 2 to 4 times per week.
Add poultry to the plan
The MIND diet suggests two or more servings per week of poultry. Since commercial poultry, like beef, is chock-full of antibiotics, GMO feed residue, and other unhealthy substances, I recommend only eating free-range organic birds. And don’t limit yourself to chicken and turkey - explore the possibilities. Factory farming has conditioned us to think of these two fowl when we hear the word “poultry,” but when you break out of the supermarket mindset, you’ll find that there are many other types of bird available. Try duck, or goose. Have a taste of guinea fowl or pigeon (squab.) If you’re really feeling adventurous, you might even taste-test pheasant.
Use olive oil and have a glass of wine
The health benefits of olive oil just keep stacking up. We already know that olive oil helps protect against heart disease. Other studies show it might help prevent cancer. Now research suggests that it plays a protective role in brain health too. The final component of the MIND diet is a single glass of wine each day.
And now for the “don’ts”
The MIND diet also has a short list of foods to avoid. These include butter and margarine, sweets and pastries, cheese, fried food and fast food, and to a lesser degree, red meat (no more than 4 servings per week.)
In a nutshell:
• Eat leafy greens plus another serving of vegetables each day.
• Have a snack of nuts at least 6 days per week.
• Eat berries at least twice a week.
• Have beans 3 or more times each week.
• Do eat whole grains, but choose wisely and limit portion size.
• Have fatty fish and poultry at least twice per week.
• Use olive oil, and avoid butter or margarine.
• Avoid fried foods, fast food, pastries and sweets.
• Eat cheese no more than once a week.
• and have a glass of wine with dinner each day.
Whether you’re eating for brain health, heart health, weight loss, or just because you want to feel good, the guidelines above are a great place to start. If you’re eating from the 10 groups listed above, you’ve got the basis of a balanced, healthy diet.