Starving Dietitian

The Rise of Brain Diets


Food for thought

I’m often asked about the newest trends in healthy eating, which is an easier question to ask than answer.

As a Dietitian my “Diet Philosophy” so to speak isn’t based on the newest fad diet or whatever the newest nutrition celebrity eats, but on a long-standing body of evidence that I slowly tweak as new studies come to light. Granted that’s pretty boring and not the answer most people want to hear.

I think we all wish that the answer to a healthy lifestyle would be something that’s been right under our nose. Some nutrient or food or water filtration process that if only we knew sooner we would’ve had a much easier time losing weight and feeling good. Unfortunately, that’s not really the way biology works, a parallel would be thinking you could change your cars spark plugs to diamond coated platinum wonder-plugs and never change your oil again.

So with that out in the open, there actually is something new in the world of diet advice. It’s not full-blown yet, but over the past 6 months or so I’ve noticed an increasing number of studies and articles on the topic of food for your brain.

Over the past year we’ve seen researchers look at how probiotics can influence brain patterns related to food craving, or anxiety and depression. Other studies have found that different sugars affect brain circuits in different ways, some hitting our reward pathways harder than others. Don’t even get me started on Nootropics (cognitive enhancing substances), which have set in motion a quest for boosting brain power through herbs, food, and even illicit drugs.

What’s really interesting though is the work being done to slow cognitive decline.

One recent study discovered the Mediterranean Diet improved memory performance and reduced markers of cognitive decline over a 4 year period. Yet another found that voluntary exercise along with Green Tea Extract slowed the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease and in some cases reversed the effects in mice. These are seriously impressive results, even if there isn’t a huge body of research yet.

I figured it wouldn’t be long until a therapeutic diet came along for cognitive decline, and sure enough you can now add the MIND diet to the list of diets you might hear at your next doctors visit.

So what is the MIND diet and why is it significant?

MIND is an acronym for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as easily does it?

At it’s core the MIND diet as you might have guessed from the name is a combination of the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet and the Mediterranean diet we’re all familiar with. If you haven’t heard of DASH before it’s a low fat, low sodium diet to reduce high blood pressure.

What kind of foods are in it?

Berry Brain Shot

The researchers describe the MIND diet as emphasizing natural plant-based foods, specifically promoting an increase in the consumption of berries and green leafy vegetables; with limited intakes of animal-based and high saturated fat foods.  The diet also does not specify a need for high fruit (other than berries), potato, or dairy consumption.

Why is this significant?

Diet Brain Mind

This isn’t just another talk-show diet we’re talking about here, it’s a new diet formulated by public health experts for the purpose of, well, public health. There’s  hard evidence here, showing that eating these foods and following this diet can significantly reduce age or disease related cognitive decline. That’s no small feat.

I think the MIND diet is only the beginning of what’s to come. Since the last World War research has largely focused on heart disease and cancer. Both critical issues but as we’ve improved our medications and procedures we’re seeing the long term effects of the diets that caused those issues in the first place. The rise in both Dementia and Alzheimer’s over the next 50 years will be significant and costly. If you have a history of either of those in your family, it’s not a bad idea to change your eating now. Prevention, as they say, is the best medicine.

For those interested you’ll find a brief list of the “good” and “bad” brain foods from the study below.

  • 10 brain healthy food groups:
    • green leafy vegetables
    • other vegetables
    • nuts
    • berries
    • beans
    • whole grains
    • fish
    • poultry
    • olive oil
    • wine
  • 5 unhealthy brain food groups:
    • red meats
    • butter and stick margarine
    • cheese
    • pastries and sweets
    • fried/fast food

Be good to each other.

– Joshua Iufer, RD

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