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Have you heard the phrase “you are what you eat”? There is truth to this idea. If you want to stay healthy, you need to eat healthily. And the health benefits of food aren’t limited to physical health; a good diet can improve your mental health and cognitive functioning, too!
One such diet is the MIND diet. A cross between the DASH diet to “stop hypertension” and the Mediterranean diet, the MIND diet focuses on brain health and is based on the foods that improve our cognitive functioning. Here’s what you need to know about the MIND diet:
Leaves, berries and other good things to eat
The Mediterranean DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay or MIND diet made its debut in 2015 when Dr Martha Clare Morris shared the findings of her decade-long research with the world. Dr Morris and her team at Rush University Medical Centre ran a total of 21 tests from 2004-13 in five cognitive domains – episodic memory, working memory, semantic memory, visuospatial ability, and perceptual speed, to arrive at an understanding of the best brain food.
Here’s a quick look at what they found:
Vegetables are good. But green-leafy ones are best: The MIND diet researchers have found that green leafy vegetables like kale, collards, spinach or lettuce are loaded with nutrients like folate, vitamin E, carotenoids and flavonoids that can effectively slow down the ageing of the brain. People following the MIND diet must eat at least six servings of green vegetables in a week and at least one bowl of any of their favourite vegetables every day.
Fruits are fine. But berries are incredible: Berries are a rich source of flavonoids, particularly a subclass of flavonoids called anthocyanidins, which can stimulate the parts of the brain responsible for learning and remembering. Berries keep the mind young.
Oxidative stress and inflammation can lead to cognitive decline. Berries reduce cognitive decline in older adults because of the powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of flavonoids.
Munch on nuts and cook in olive oil: Nuts are a good source of fat-soluble vitamin E, which is known for its brain-protective qualities. The MIND diet recommends eating a fistful of nuts five times a week to keep your mind healthy and your memory sharp. When it comes to cooking, the MIND diet, just like the Mediterranean diet, recommends using extra virgin olive oil. According to Dr Morris, olive oil also contains polyphenols that have been shown to have a protective effect on the brain.
Lean meat is okay. But add plant-based proteins too: The MIND diet recommends including whole grains, fish, beans, and soybeans. They are not only a rich source of protein, but they are also loaded with fibre and vitamin B. The diet recommends three servings of whole grains in a day, four servings of beans per week and fish once a week, to keep the mind healthy, happy and young.
Drunken nights are out. But one glass of wine a day is just fine: Drinking too much alcohol is not good for health, but limiting it to one glass a day can improve your brain health, according to researchers. Alcohol reduces the risk of clotting by making the blood flow easily. Moreover, studies have also shown that alcohol can lower the risk of dementia and it can also delay the risk of Alzheimer by three years.
Who is this diet for?
Everyone: In her seminal book Diet for the Mind, Dr Morris wrote: “I am often asked whether young or middle-aged adults need to be concerned with changing their diet to prevent Alzheimer’s disease or to keep the brain healthy in old age, and the answer is a resounding yes!”
Dr Morris says it’s never too early – or too late – to cater to your brain. A good brain diet, according to Dr Morris’ research, must have more vitamin E, vitamin B12, folate, niacin, beta-carotene, flavonoids, seafood, omega-3 fatty acids, and vegetables.
Older people, especially: According to a study conducted in Chicago, US, the MIND diet made the mind of healthy (older) adults 7.5 years younger than the minds of those who followed regular diets. Another study with 80-something-year-olds found that the MIND diet improved cognitive function significantly in people who had suffered a stroke: the study found that some stroke survivors on this diet had the brain function of someone 20 years younger!