How to Improve Your Diet for Brain Health
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There is plenty of research on the impact of diet on heart and brain health. If you do a google search for “best diet,” you will find 100s of different diet fads, trends, and recommendations. Many of them will even contradict each other in what is considered healthy! A healthy diet means giving your body and your brain the nutrients it needs to function at its best. Instead of thinking of a diet as restricting certain foods for a short time so you can lose weight, it is essential to think of diet as giving yourself what you need to feel good in the long run.

A healthy diet is a long-term lifestyle that includes foods that boost your heart health and fight dementia. There are a few diets that have been heavily researched and recommended to improve brain health. You can read more detailed information and closer looks at the current research on each of these diets on the Cognitive Vitality website. Here are a few brain healthy diets to consider:

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that embraces whole foods and healthy fats combined in a flavorful way.

A Mediterranean diet is high in:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Potatoes
  • Whole grains
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil

The Mediterranean diet also encourages you to limit alcohol consumption, red meat, and full-fat dairy. A recent observational study looked at the impact of eating processed and unprocessed meat on your risk of dementia. The study could not prove that eating processed meat caused a higher dementia risk but still concluded that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and legumes is recommended.

DASH Diet

The DASH diet is an approach that focuses on filling your plate with nutrient-rich foods that lower your blood pressure. The DASH diet also emphasizes eating high amounts of:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Grains
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Legumes
  • Nuts

This diet also recommends small amounts of meat and limited fats, sweets, and sodium. A low-sodium diet can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease while improving overall health. The Cognitive Vitality website reports that the DASH diet did not positively impact cognitive function in midlife. However, a recent study showed that combining the DASH diet with aerobic exercise did improve brain function.

MIND Diet

The MIND diet mixes the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet to create a diet that may lower your risk of dementia. This style of eating provides more specific lists of foods to eat. Dr. Martha Clare Morris, the founder of the MIND diet, recommends eating:

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

The MIND diet also recommends small amounts of red wine with strict avoidance of red meat, butter, cheese, pastries, sweets, and fried foods. Overall, this diet aims to protect your brain by giving it the nutrition it needs.

APDQS Diet

The APDQS (A Priori Diet Quality Score) diet presents you with 46 food groups that are considered beneficial, neutral or harmful. The more foods you choose from the beneficial food groups, the higher your dietary score. A recent study found that people who adhered strictly to the APDQS diet were less likely to have poor cognitive function. Beneficial foods on the APDQS diet are:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Soy products
  • Small amounts of alcohol
  • Tea
  • Coffee

Foods to Limit

Looking at these different diets for brain health, you can see what they all have in common. Your brain’s nutritional needs can be met through eating a diet rich in:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Beans and nuts
  • Fish
  • Healthy fats like olive oil or avocado

One recent study published in Neurology found that a diet high in vegetables, fruit, and tea may lower your chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. These foods contain antioxidants that can be beneficial for brain health. You should limit foods like:

  • Fast food
  • Fried food
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Red meat
  • Salty snacks
  • Sugary sweets

How Caregivers Can Support a Brain-Healthy Diet for Seniors

As a caregiver, it can be challenging to encourage changes in diet. You may be aware of what foods are important for your loved one to eat for brain health but don’t know how to support them in eating these beneficial foods.

  1. Make it easy. Set yourself a goal to have two or three healthy foods that are easy to eat and available. The easier it is to grab a healthy meal or snack, the more likely it will be eaten. This could include making healthy pre-prepared meals or putting a whole grain muffin on a plate beside your loved one while they watch TV.
  2. Make it tasty. Food is meant to taste good, and we all love to eat good food. Experiment with new recipes, spices, and flavors to ensure that the beneficial foods appeal to your loved one’s taste buds.
  3. Make it together. Eating is about more than food. It is also about community and relationships. Studies have shown that eating together improves fruit and vegetable consumption and decreases the amount of processed food in your diet. Depending on your loved one’s ability, you could plan to prepare a meal together weekly or even something as simple as having tea together (with a side of fruit or vegetables).

Don’t be overwhelmed by the amount of information on healthy diets. A brain-healthy diet simply means eating foods that are good for your brain health. Most of the research will agree that you can’t go wrong eating fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains while remembering to limit processed foods and added sugars. Changing eating habits can take time, so be patient with your loved one and try adding just one new strategy at a time.

Resources

Cognitive Vitality

Does Eating Meat Increase Dementia Risk

Home Cooked Meals with Family

About the Author(s)

Crystal Jo is a Registered Nurse who is passionate about helping older adults live happy, healthy lives at home. As a freelance writer, she enjoys educating and inspiring seniors, and those who love them, to choose a healthy life.

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