We’ve shared in the past that sticking to a healthful diet is essential for prioritizing mental health. But, did you know that certain foods and beverages may boost overall brain health when incorporated into a dietary routine? There is even a dietary lifestyle – the MIND Diet – that was created primarily for brain health. Read on to explore some of the most recommended diets for a healthy brain and see which works best for you to incorporate into your life!
Each individual should follow the advice of their medical professionals or doctors and speak with them before making changes to diet, exercise, or supplements. This post is for informational use only and should not be considered medical advice.
The Effects of Diet on Brain Health
Before we get into the best diets recommended for a healthy brain, let’s chat a bit about how diet relates to brain health. There are many scientific studies out there that focus on how diet affects both physical and mental health. Getting through all the research is an exercise in itself! We feel the following recent studies provide especially relevant research into the topic of food and brain health.
- The Rotterdam Study of the benefits of proper nutrition for brain functionality was a long-term study with BIG results. When we say brain boosting we mean it! Findings from this study concluded that a quality diet may be associated with large brain volume, including a higher volume of gray matter, white matter, and hippocampus! The Rotterdam Study show the benefits of proper nutrition for brain functionality. It analyzed how diet related to brain tissue volume through MRI scan and questionnaire analysis of 4,213 people between 2005 and 2015. Results showed better quality diets (high in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, dairy and fish – and low in sugar-containing beverages) related to larger brain volume.
- Another study, conducted in 3 waves between 2004 and 2014, analyzed overall brain volume and brain cortex thickness of 401 older adults in Scotland. Researchers found those who followed a Mediterranean-like diet were less likely to lose brain volume with age compared with those who did not follow such a diet.
- A third study, the Memory and Aging Project (first published in 2017), investigated the effects of nutrients in green leafy vegetables upon cognitive decline in 960 people between 58 and 99 years old. The five-year-project found through cognitive assessments and questionnaires that those who consumed the highest intake of greens showed a significant slowing of cognitive decline. It concluded that those who eat one serving per day of green, leafy vegetables may help to slow cognitive decline with aging.
- In very recent news, the Alzheimer’s Association is presently recruiting for a two-year clinical trial, the “U.S. Study to Protect Brain Health through Lifestyle Intervention to Reduce Risk” (U.S. POINTER). It seeks to evaluate whether lifestyle interventions that simultaneously target many risk factors protect cognitive function in older adults who are at increased risk for cognitive decline. It takes into consideration a variety of factors beyond diet, which we all should do when we approach improving our brain health.
Diets Geared Toward a Healthy Brain
There are several dietary lifestyles that have been touted for brain-boosting effects in recent years. Leading them is the MIND Diet, which was created specifically for improving brain health. However, the diets that the MIND Diet sampled in creation are also recommended as healthful diets for the body and mind.
- MIND Diet: Its acronym stands for “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.” It is a mix of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet. It encourages consuming plant-based foods and it limits animal products and those high in saturated fat. Berries and green leafy vegetables are highly recommended within it. This diet was specifically created for a focus on a healthy brain.
- DASH Diet: Its acronym stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” The DASH Diet is mentioned as part of the MIND Diet and is built upon daily and weekly nutritional goals. It recommends vegetables, fruits, and whole grains with the inclusion of fat-free or low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils. It encourages limiting foods high in saturated fat, full-fat dairy, tropical oils, and sweets.
- Mediterranean Diet: This diet has also been touted for its positive effects on brain health. It involves eating a lot of vegetables, fruits, beans, and cereals. Fish and poultry are recommended at least twice a week. Red meat, dairy, and saturated fat intake are limited, and olive oil is used much more than butter. One thing many people like about this diet is that it allows for some pasta and rice.
A common thread through each of the diets mentioned is that sugar should be avoided as much as possible for a healthy brain. Harvard’s Health Blog shared that multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function, as well as a worsening of mood disorder symptoms like depression.
It is our hope that more people can focus on feeding their brains increased amounts of the good stuff for them, and less of the stuff that negatively affects them. We also need to focus on forming consistent lifestyle habits in our diets, rather than one-off dining experiences. Dietary changes can be hard to make and can require a lot of effort and support, but the reward is huge – a healthier brain and body. We wish our readers the best of luck!
We would love to hear about your experiences with any of these diet lifestyles in the comments section.