The Brain Diet: Eating for Maximum Brainpower

Eating foods that help reduce risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, inflammation, and other health problems that can damage the brain is essential. The following three diets have been associated with lower risk for cognitive decline and/or dementia.

The DASH Diet

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is recommended to help lower blood pressure, keep your cardiovascular system in good condition, and ensure that your brain receives a vigorous flow of blood that keeps it well-nourished and oxygenated.

Consume

Small portions (3.oz.) of lean meats, poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy. Get at least 3 servings of fruits and vegetables daily; include whole grains in your diet, as well as nuts, which supply fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants that facilitate brain function.

Limit

Unhealthy saturated fats (e.g., fats found in high-fat dairy products such as cream and high-fat cheeses, animal products such as fatty meats and some fried foods) and trans fats (found in processed foods and margarines).

Also limit or exclude refined products and processed foods, which are often loaded with salt, unhealthy fats, sugar and preservatives, and avoid excessive sweets.

Be aware of hidden or added sugars in the food you consume. Fruit flavoured yoghurts and store bought juices are very high in sugar.

The Mediterranean Diet

Regular consumption of the diet typical of Mediterranean regions has been linked to slower cognitive decline, as well as a decrease in the likelihood of developing dementia.

Consume

Plenty of fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. Use olive oil in place of other fats.

Limit

Red meats, dairy products including cheese, saturated fats and trans fats, processed foods, and sweets.

The MIND Diet

A combination of the DASH and Mediterranean diets, the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet has been found to slow cognitive decline – even in individuals who only partially follow the diet.

Consume

Vegetables, including leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, nuts, berries, poultry, fish and olive oil.

Limit

Fried or fast foods, red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets.

You needn’t change your diet all at once. Make sensible, small changes such as substituting fresh foods and whole grains for processed foods. Choose healthy snacks and make sure you are getting at least three meals a day. Drink about 8 glasses of water every day to make sure you are adequately hydrated. Finally, remember to exercise portion control to help manage your weight.

(Credit: Dr. Uma Naidoo, MD, the director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), an Instructor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and an expert on the effects of food on neurochemistry. Dr. Naidoo is considered the “Mood Food” expert at Harvard.)