Friday, October 16, 2015

Foods and Brain Health -- What's the connection?

Did you know there is now a diet for your brain? The MIND diet was developed by researchers in Chicago at Rush University. MIND is an acronym for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, and the claim is that those who follow the diet have a 35 percent lower risk of Alzheimer's; even those who do so half-heartedly.

Image by Peter Griffin

It's similar to a Mediterranean diet full of fish, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts. Oh, and let's not forget that glass of wine with dinner each night. The MIND diet also adds berries and leafy greens.

Majid Fotuhi, M.D., medical director of NeuroGrow Brain Fitness Center and affiliate staff at Johns Hopkins Medicine states, "Follow the Mediterranean or the MIND diets and your mind will be sharper in six months -- and less susceptible to Alzheimer's disease decades later." That's a pretty powerful statement, don't you think? Even if you only consume a few of these, your brain is bound to be all the better for it.

So what is the diet? Here are the four categories:
  • Olive oil, green tea** and leafy greens like kale, spinach, and broccoli)
    • These are antioxidants that help fight inflammation. Inflammation in the long run can cause damage to the brain. This category gives me a bit of trouble as I'm not a fan of leafy greens. I'll eat spinach raw in salads, but I don't like it cooked. I'm not a fan of kale, and I HATE broccoli (I know, I know, it's good for me... it doesn't matter. I hate it.**And green tea should NOT be consumed by anyone with stomach issues (I have an ulcer, which is not active right now thanks to apple cider vinegar) or with any kind of anxiety issues. Guess I'll have to load up on olive oil.
  •  Tomatoes, beets and avocados
    • Uh oh. I'm in trouble again, as I don't eat beets or avocados. Apparently, they're important because they help with increased blood flow to the brain. This promotes neuron growth in the part of the brain associated with learning and memory.
  • Pomegranates, curcumin (turmeric), and nuts (especially walnuts)
    • Okay. I'm in better shape here. I take turmeric supplements twice a day and use the spice whenever possible. For instance, I add it to my scrambled eggs in the morning. And I love nuts. I'm chomping down some walnuts as I write this. Phew. These foods help the brain to battle amyloid plaques, which will kill neurons and create inflammation which will kill more neurons. That's lose-lose situation.
  • Fish (ehh), blueberries (I like them in muffins), grapes (yea!), coffee (super yea!) and ... wait for it... dark chocolate (YES!)
    • Based on most of these, my brain's going to be super healthy! Called "nutrient powerhouses," these foods can raise the level of BDNF. You know what that is, right? Nah, I didn't either. It stands for brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that supports the growth of all those things the amyloid plaques were killing off -- neurons. Fotuhi calls them "Miracle-Gro for the brain." Now, we all know that we're to steer clear of the actual Miracle-Gro with all it's Scott's nastiness, but this is different. According to Fotuhi, "Stimulating the release of BDNF not only reverses the effects of aging, but also triggers the brain to make more neurons." That's a good thing. 
 So... the MIND diet is worthy of considering, even if you're not yet "over-the-hill" and aren't worrying about Alzheimer's or dementia at this point. Can anyone say "Mommy brain"?

Perhaps it's time to grab a handful of walnuts... and don't forget the wine!


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