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Healthy Diet, Healthy Brain

Dieting can be a sore subject for a lot of people. Just saying the word “diet” reminds people of rapid weight loss attempts, long days of counting calories and overall dissatisfaction. But by shifting the idea from a period of restriction to a beneficial lifestyle change, we can begin to reap the true benefits of a “diet.” It all comes down to how we define the word.

What is the MIND diet?

The MIND Diet stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. Developed by nutritional epidemiologists at Rush University Medical Center, the MIND Diet includes foods and nutrients that research has shown to be beneficial for brain health. Published in 2015, the diet claims a significant decrease in the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s, even when not followed meticulously. According to Rush epidemiologists, the study shows that participants who adhered to the MIND diet rigorously lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53 percent. For those who followed it moderately well, the risk decreased by about 35 percent.

10 food groups to prioritize and five to minimize

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not just about how much we eat, but rather about what we eat and how it affects us. The MIND Diet follows a traditional Mediterranean style of eating which includes a low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables. As opposed to following a strict list of “yes” and “no” foods, the MIND Diet provides a customizable outline to best fit our individual needs, including 10 food groups to prioritize and five to minimize.

The 10 foods are green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and the occasional glass of wine. When eaten consistently, these foods can produce wondrous effects on our health such as a reduction in insulin resistance and the stimulation of growth hormones. In fact, research from the Mayo Clinic shows us that following the MIND Diet can slow our brain aging by 7.5 years.

The MIND Diet also outlines five food groups to consider reprioritizing in our everyday meals: red meat, butter and margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast foods. Eaten in moderation, these foods are not extremely harmful; but if our diet only includes these foods, our health can begin to suffer. To follow the MIND Diet effectively, experts recommend prioritizing whole grains, fruits and vegetables as part of your diet and also focusing on exercise.

Exercise is key

Exercise is an integral part of any diet because of its myriad of positive effects on our health, including cardiovascular and brain health. The World Health Organization reports that a whopping average of 5 million deaths could be avoided annually if individuals across the globe were more active.

Nutritional science has always understood exercise to be an important part of a healthy diet, but as we age, physical fitness becomes more of a challenge. And just like the MIND Diet, we can tailor exercise to fit our own lives. Working out does not have to be a strenuous and exerting task. It can be as simple as playing frisbee with your dog or trying out a dance class with a friend. Exercise also offers the perfect opportunity to decompress and be mindful. Taking a walk alone can be extremely beneficial for both our physical and mental health.

Overall, the MIND Diet can be a useful tool in maintaining our physical and brain health as we age. Both customizable and easy to follow, it promotes an overall healthy lifestyle and could possibly reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and other related dementias. To learn more about the MIND Diet and its numerous benefits, watch our recent webinar  with Dr. Kristin Gustashaw.