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Keep Your Mind Sharp With These Brain-Boosting Foods

glasses of red wine
Katherine Brooking, RD - Blogs
By Katherine Brooking, MS, RDRegistered dietitianDecember 11, 2017

Did you know that eating the right foods can help stave off age-related declines in memory and cognition? The brain-boosting MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is rich in fruits and veggies, whole grains, and healthy oils. In clinical studies, this plant-forward eating pattern has been shown to significantly reduce risk for Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than five million Americans over the age of 65.

Follow these simple tips to help your brain remain at its best:

1. Pump up the Produce

Fruits and veggies are rich in nutrients like folate, flavonoids, carotenoids, and antioxidants that can keep your brain and blood vessels healthy. One study found that people who ate 2.8 servings of vegetables daily reduced their rate of cognitive decline by approximately 40 percent compared with those who had less than one serving per day. Sound good? There’s more! Another study of more than 900 seniors revealed that those who followed the MIND diet recommendations closely reduced their risk for developing dementia by more than 50 percent.

What to do: Aim for at least one serving per day of dark, leafy greens; one serving of another type of veggie; and berries at least twice a week.

2. Enjoy Red Wine

Here’s one many people will love: A glass of wine daily may lower your risk for dementia. One study reported in JAMA found that among nearly 6,000 adult participants, those who reported drinking one to six drinks per week had a 54% reduction in risk for developing dementia compared to teetotalers. The key is to drink light to moderate amounts, as excessive alcohol consumption increases risk for alcohol-related brain damage.

What to do: Enjoy up to one glass of wine per day (red has more beneficial polyphenols than white). For those with a family history of breast cancer, speak with your doctor before drinking alcohol for its health benefits.

3. Be Fat Savvy

Despite the recent trends emphasizing butter and coconut oil, the artery-clogging saturated fats found in these foods are not only harmful to your heart – they’re bad for your brain and may increase risk for neurological declines. In fact, one study found that older people who ate the most saturated fat had more than twice the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. The good news is that healthy fats – such as those from fish, avocados, nuts and most vegetable oils – can help reduced the risk of dementia.

What to do: The MIND diet recommends at least one serving a week of fish per week – but more may be even better. Choose plant-based oils low in saturated fat, like canola, olive, and sunflower, and limit full-fat dairy, butter, and fatty cuts of red meat.

4. Boost Your Choline

Not familiar with choline? You should be if you want to keep your brain sharp. Choline is an essential nutrient that acts as a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is critical for memory. Cholinergic neurons comprise a significant part of your brain and nervous system. According to studies, those with higher intakes of choline have better memory and cognition. Data show that about 9 in 10 Americans aren’t meeting the recommended RDI of 550 milligrams choline per day.

What to do: Bump up the choline in your diet by incorporating foods abundant in choline such as fatty fish, whole eggs (the choline is in the yolk), beef, poultry, mushrooms, milk, and yogurt.

5. Be Carb-Smart

Whole grains, fruits and non-starchy vegetables should be the primary sources of carbohydrates in your diet. Limit added sugars like those found in baked goods and other sweet treats. Added sugars can increase your risk for weight gain and type 2 diabetes, which, research indicates, may increase the risk for developing dementia later in life.

What to do: Make at least half of your grain servings whole grains, and limit added sugars to no more than 10 percent of your total calories, or about 200 calories a day for women, 250 for men.

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About the Author
Katherine Brooking, MS, RD

Katherine Brooking is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition education from Columbia University. She is dedicated to helping people have better health and live richer lives through sound nutrition and good lifestyle choices.

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