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Healthy Food, Healthy Brain: How Eating Right Can Help You Avoid Alzheimer’s

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

You’ve probably heard about the many ways proper nutrition can contribute to your health by protecting you from illness, giving you more energy and helping you feel better. Add one more benefit to the list: a healthy brain. What you eat can even protect you against Alzheimer’s disease.

Multiple studies have established a connection between healthy food and lower risks of Alzheimer’s disease. One 2015 study found an eating plan focusing on fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts lowered Alzheimer’s risk by as much as 53 percent.

“These impressive findings show that this eating plan may be as good as it gets when it comes to what we know about food that prevents Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Ariel Cole, director of Florida Hospital’s Geriatric Fellowship Program. “It’s especially important to talk about prevention because there are few treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and no cure.”

Florida Hospital believes eating right is one of the essential elements of whole-body health. CREATION Health teaches that nutrition is your fuel, and small changes can create profound benefits.

Nutritionists have come up with a list of foods to seek out and avoid that is specifically designed for brain health.

What is the MIND Eating Plan?

You know that broccoli is better for you than a cheeseburger, but what does an eating plan focused on brain health specifically look like? Researchers mixed two eating plans: One based off the food eaten by people in the Mediterranean region and another that was created to help lower blood pressure.

They called it the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, or MIND, diet.

A quick note: Nutritionists call it a diet, but they don’t mean it the way most people do. It’s not a plan to cut calories or fat to lose weight. Instead, it’s basically a word to describe all the food you eat. We call it an eating plan.

Here are some serving suggestions from the minds behind MIND:

  • Green leafy vegetables: like spinach, at least six a week
  • Other vegetables: one a day
  • Nuts: five a week
  • Berries: two or more a week
  • Beans: at least three a week
  • Whole grains: three or more a day
  • Fish: once a week
  • Chicken or turkey: twice a week
  • Olive oil: Use as main cooking oil

Here’s what to avoid if you’re following the MIND eating plan:

  • Red meat: Limit to four servings a week
  • Butter: Limit to one tablespoon (one eighth of a stick) per day
  • Cheese: Limit to one serving a week
  • Pastries and sweets: Limit to five servings a week
  • Fried or fast food: Limit to one serving a week

Though this eating plan was developed for brain health, its benefits extend far beyond Alzheimer’s prevention. It’s a great plan for a healthy heart, digestive system and more, Dr. Cole says.

Tips to Get Started

Food habits are some of the toughest to change.

“We’ve spent decades building them up, so don’t expect to change them all in a day,” Dr. Cole says. “My advice is take it slow, and make small changes because radical ones are really hard to keep up over the long haul.”

Maybe it means introducing new fruits and vegetables you might like, such as by adding blueberries to your oatmeal or trying a new recipe with spinach or kale.

It all starts in the grocery store, where you’ll want to bring a list and spend most of your time on the perimeter.

“That’s where the fresh foods are,” Dr. Cole said, while the processed foods are concentrated in the aisles.

She acknowledges it’s not easy to reorient your eating habits.

“Our lives are increasingly busy and we depend on processed foods because they take less time to cook,” Dr. Cole said.

At the same time, there are new ways to eat healthy, too, from online recipes to fresh food delivery services.

One positive element of the MIND eating plan is that you don’t have to perfectly follow it to see benefits. The most impressive 53 percent reduction in Alzheimer’s risk came among the top third of people who stuck to the plan most closely.

But even the middle third, those who ate plenty of fruits and vegetables but were far from perfect, enjoyed a 35 percent reduction in Alzheimer’s risk compared to the bottom third. That’s great news. It means that taking even small steps can pay off in a big way.

Beyond Food

A healthy eating plan isn’t the only lifestyle change that will help prevent Alzheimer’s, Dr. Cole says. Staying active in body and mind can also be a great help.

“Walking is an excellent exercise, and it costs no money,” she says. Think about exercise broadly — it doesn’t only mean going to a gym.

“If you’re moving, it counts,” Dr. Cole says. 

Keeping your brain active, especially by staying engaged with friends and family, can also protect it against dementia. Here are some of her tips:

  • Read a book
  • Learn to dance
  • Travel
  • Learn a new language
  • Do a puzzle
  • Take a cooking class
  • Play board games

“There are a million ways to exercise your brain, but passive activities like watching TV aren’t helpful,” Dr. Cole says.

To learn more about how the Center for Aging and Wellness can help keep your body active, your mind sharp and your spirit lively, call us at 407-599-6060 or visit our website.