Eating to Keep Your Brain Healthy

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Mediterranean and DASH diet foods

A diet plan long-lauded for its heart-healthy benefits may also be good for your brain.

More and more, research is showing that adopting a Mediterranean diet could improve brain health as well as ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“While we continue to look for better treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, researchers are also looking for ways to prevent and slow down these diseases,” says Dr. Patrick D. Lyden, chair of the Department of Neurology at Cedars-Sinai. “We keep seeing new studies that indicate healthy choices now could be better for our brains in the future.”

Over the summer, at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London, scientists presented data showing that those who consistently followed a diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains had up to 35% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s, dementia, or cognitive impairment later in life. They studied self-reported data from 6,000 older adults.

“We keep seeing new studies that indicate healthy choices now could be better for our brains in the future.”

So far, no one is sure why following these diets may protect brain function. Some speculate that improving cholesterol and blood sugar levels, as well as overall blood vessel health, may play a role.

In addition to the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet—created to reduce high blood pressure—is also getting attention for potentially reducing Alzheimer’s risk.

Here are the basics for both:

Mediterranean diet

  • Focus on fruit, vegetables, grains, and nuts
  • Limit red meat
  • Choose herbs for flavor over salt
  • Replace butter and margarine with healthier fats, like olive oil
  • Choose fish and poultry at least twice a week

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet

  • Choose foods low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol
  • Pick fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods
  • Eat whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts
  • Decrease intake of fats, red meat, sweets, sugary beverages like juice and soda, and sodium

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