Could your diet protect your brain as you age?
In 2015, researchers at Rush University wanted to see if dietary changes could stave off cognitive decline in the elderly. They combined the Mediterranean diet with the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) into a hybrid diet called “the MIND diet.”
Researchers compared all three diets for 4.5 years with 923 adults from 58 to 98 years old. While all three diets decreased risk of age-related cognitive decline, the MIND diet won, reducing risk of cognitive issues by a whopping 35-52%!1
The MIND diet is mostly plant-based, with small amounts of animal-based saturated fats. Overall, it reduces animal proteins, while increasing antioxidant polyphenol levels found in berries, olive oil, whole grains, and green veggies.
The MIND diet suggests three servings of whole grains per day, compared with the Mediterranean diet which suggests only two whole grain servings per day. Contrary to the popular belief that grains and wheat are linked to age-related cognitive decline, the MIND diet delivers greater protection from cognitive decline. It also recommends the highest percentage of grains (compared to the DASH and Mediterranean diets).1
The study identified foods in both the Mediterranean and DASH diets found to have the most brain-protective properties. They discovered 10 brain-healthy foods and five brain-damaging foods.
10 Brain-Healthy MIND Diet Foods1,3
- Green leafy vegetables: six or more servings per week.
- Other vegetables: Choose another vegetable (mostly non-starchy) at least one per day.
- Nuts: Try to consume 5 servings per week.
- Berries: two servings of berries per week. The MIND diet emphasized berries over other fruit for brain health.
- Beans: Include beans in at least four meals per week.
- Olive oil: Use extra virgin olive oil as your main cooking oil. Beware of cheap adulterated brands.
- Fish: Eat fish at least once per week.
- Poultry: Chicken or turkey (not fried) at least twice a week.
- Whole grains: Consume at least three servings of whole grains, including 100% whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa and others per day.
- Wine: No more than one glass per day.
5 Brain-Damaging Foods
- Red meats
- Butter + margarine
- Fast or fried food
- Pastries or sweets
These findings are very similar to the diet consumed by ancient cultures around the world, as well as the seasonal Ayurvedic diet I espouse, especially in The 3-Season Diet.
Principles of an Ayurvedic Diet
- Only 10% of the diet is animal protein.
- Add good fats like olive oil to food. Cook with ghee or coconut oil.
- Eat ½ of the plate portion as green vegetables.
- Eat ¼ of the plate portion as starch (including 100% whole grains, root veggies (such as potatoes, carrots, beets).
- Eat ¼ of the plate portion as protein. (nuts, seeds, beans, yogurt, fish, poultry, meats)
- Eat fruit and berries as a snack or for a small breakfast or supper in season.
- No processed food.
- No hidden cooked and processed vegetable oils (soy, sunflower, canola, safflower).
- No added sugars or sweeteners.
- Shop from my summer grocery list and eat more foods in season.
Finally, here are the MIND diet suggested limitations of how much brain-damaging food you are allowed to eat:
- Under 5 servings of pastries or sweets a week.
- Under 1 serving of fried or fast food a week.
- Under 1 serving of cheese per week.
- Under 4 servings of red meat a week.
- Under 1 tablespoon of butter or margarine per day.
The big takeaway in this study is the brain benefits of polyphenol-rich foods. Just eating modest amounts of foods like berries decreased risk of cognitive concerns by 35%-52%.1
Another study investigating cognitive decline at the UCLA Buck Institute reveals strategies that produce cognitive benefits in 9 out of 10 aged adults.2
Highlights of the Buck Institute Cognitive Therapy Plan2
- Eliminate simple carbohydrates and sugars. No processed foods. More fresh vegetables, fruits, and no farmed fish.
- Meditate twice a day.
- Sleep 7-8 hours per night.
- Supplement your diet with vitamin D3, vitamin B12, fish oil, Coenzyme Q10, and melatonin.
- Optimize oral hygiene with tongue scraping, oil pulling, and oral probiotics.
- Fast a minimum of 12 hours from supper to breakfast.
- Exercise a minimum of 30 minutes 6 times a week.
- Talk to your physician about reinstating bioidentical hormone therapy.
While I do not subscribe to all of these exact recommendations, it is surprising how many of these recommendations match time-tested Ayurvedic principles practiced for thousands of years.
Once again, we find ancient wisdom proved by modern science. If you want to protect your brain for the long haul, using these guidelines, consider changing your diet and let us know how it goes!