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Dr Elena Philippou, PhD, RD
12 Feb 2018 - 4 minute read
Nourish your brain!
Which foods can really nourish your brain? Read below to find out and consume them today!
If your mum kept telling you to eat your fish or beans, she was probably right! Studies on how to prevent dementia and improve brain function conclude that the Mediterranean Diet and the MIND diet (as explained below) have a lot to offer to our brain! And although we still need to better understand exactly how this way of eating helps, we already have enough information to be able to conclude that: What is good for the heart is also good for the brain!
Several epidemiological studies from various countries have shown that adherence to the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of dementia but also improves cognitive function in general. The term 'cognitive function' includes memory (both long-term and short-term), the ability to perform various tasks (executive function) fast and correctly and also the ability to concentrate. As people grow up, they may notice that many of these brain functions or processes become more difficult orslower. So, which foods can one consume that could help them improve cognitive function and make the brain more efficient?
Carbohydrates for the brain
First of all,let’s not forget that food gives us the energy we need to do our everyday activities whether this is physical or mental work. Avoiding carbohydrates leads to a strong desire to consume something sweet. This is actually very common in those studying for exams or people working mentally who avoid carbohydratesat lunchtime and then consume them in the afternoon in the form of chocolate. If you like to have slow released energy and avoid blood glucose ups and downs, consume high fiber or wholegrain carbohydrates such as sweet potato, seeded bread, quinoa or bulgur wheat with every meal
The MIND Diet
Moving on and looking at the research data in more detail, we will see that the MIND study developed by researchers from the Universities of California and San Francisco, combining the Mediterranean Diet with the DASH Diet (a diet that lowers blood pressure), is beneficial for the brain as it reduces cognitive decline by upto 35% (compared to not consuming this diet). Although the Mediterranean Diet and MIND are very similar, the latter places more emphasis on green leafy vegetables and berry consumption. However, the researchers agree that it is the combination of foods and therefore nutrients that has the greatest benefit and not the consumption of individual foods and / or supplements. The benefit of nutrition as a whole can be related to the synergy of many nutrients and the positive effect they have on the vascular system, but also to the avoidance of other foods that have a negative effect on our system such as increasing inflammation. In addition to diet, exercise, especially moderate aerobic exercise, but also lifelong learning, doing crossword puzzles and new interests, social contact and stress reduction contribute to good brain health.
The MIND Diet in detail
Let's see now in detail what the MIND diet is:
1. Wholegrain products: Eat at least three servings a day of wholegrain products such as wholemeal
bread made with wheat,barley or rye, oats, brown rice, wholewheat pasta or quinoa. And most importantly: consider the consumption of carbohydrates as something necessary and don’t avoid them as wrongly promoted by somepeople.
2. Green leafy vegetables: The MIND diet emphasizes the consumption of vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, rocket leaves, parsley, coriander, recommending the consumption of at least one salad and another leafy vegetable every day.
3. Wine: Enjoy a glass of red wine with your dinner as long as your health allows.
4. Unsalted nuts: Choose about a handful of almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts daily. Unsalted nuts are particularly rich in fiber, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids and may reduce the risk of inflammation that affects brain health.
5. Fish: Consume omega-3 rich fish at least once a week. Research suggests that omega-3 rich fish such as sea bass, sea bream, salmon, sardines and trout are beneficial for mental function.
6. Berries: Eat berries especially blueberries 2 times a week. They contain polyphenols with strong antioxidant properties and are associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease.
7. Olive oil: As in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is the fat you should prefer so consume it raw in salads, vegetables and legumes but also use it for cooking.
8. Meat and Cheese: As in the Mediterranean Diet, the MIND diet restricts the consumption of red meat to only once a week and also limits the consumption of full-fat cheese.
9. Legumes: Consume legumes such as beans and lentils 3 times a week. These can be consumed boiled on their own with the addition of fish and olive oil or combined in salads.
10. Dark chocolate and cocoa also have beneficial properties for the brain (and heart) so treat yourself with a little dark chocolate every day!
And lastly, don’t forget water! The brain needs to stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day and not just when feeling very thirsty.
Remember: A healthy diet and exercise are an 'investment' for the years to come.