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Diets And Brain Health: Is There Really A Connection?
Low carb. Low fat. Low calorie. We’ve all heard of countless diets that claim to be the best for weight loss or the best for physical health. But most of these claims never mention the most important part of our bodies — our brains. Are there specific diets that are best for our brains? Scientists believe there may be.
In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers studied the diets, memory, and attention skills of nearly 6,000 older adults. They found that individuals following either a Mediterranean or MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet performed better on cognition tests. Older adults who followed a Mediterranean diet had a 15 percent to 35 percent lower risk of scoring poorly. The results were similar for individuals on the MIND diet. Not only did individuals following one of these two diets better on mental tests, they were also less likely to have cognitive impairment later in life. Sounds promising, right? Let’s examine each of these two brain-healthy diets closer.
The Mediterranean diet is based on the concept of eating a diet similar to the diet traditionally found in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, such as Morocco, Italy, Greece, and Turkey. This diet is plant based — rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. This diet also encourages the use of “healthy fats,” such as olive oil and nuts. As far as animal protein, it is recommended that individuals on a Mediterranean diet limit red meat to a few times each month, and eat fish and poultry several times a week instead. The Mediterranean diet even allows red wine — up to one glass a day!
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MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay)
As the name suggests, the MIND diet is pretty similar to the Mediterranean diet. The primary difference is that the MIND diet places specific emphasis on 10 foods known to be good for your brain: vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish/seafood, poultry, olive oil and, you guessed it, a daily glass of red wine! Much like the traditional Mediterranean diet, the MIND diet does suggest limiting the consumption of red meat, sweets, and saturated fats such as dairy and fast food.
What can we learn from these diets?
Both of these diets are rich in plant-based foods, low in saturated fats and processed foods, and have an adequate amount of healthy fats. These diets allow flexibility by allowing you to choose the specific foods you prefer, while still giving you a set of healthy guidelines to follow. One of the best things about each of these diet plans is that they don’t have to be done perfectly — even if you follow it most of the time, you are likely to reap some benefits. So, by eating a plant-based diet with healthy fats and limited saturated fats, you may be able to have better cognitive performance now and lower risk of cognitive impairment or dementia later in life.
Unfortunately, we know that there are many risk factors for dementia including age, genetics, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Some of these risk factors may be controlled by a healthy diet including the Mediterranean or MIND diet; however, others are not. Regardless, studies have linked both the MIND and Mediterranean diets with not only a decreased risk of heart disease and better physical health, but also a significantly lower chance of dementia. So, if you’re seeking a diet that will improve both physical and mental health, one of these two may be a great option!