If most days start with a search for your keys, or you wander from room to room trying to remember why you’re in that room, you might be interested in this news: Research suggests that certain foods can help stave off age-related memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
A recent study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that a new diet—aptly named the MIND Diet—may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 53%. Before you balk at the idea of having to hew to yet another eating plan, the research suggests you don’t have to follow every detail of the MIND Diet to benefit. Even study participants who only “moderately” adhered to the diet lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s by 35%.
So, what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on this brain-boosting plan? It’s a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets (MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay), both of which have received rave reviews for their heart-healthy benefits and call for lots of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats (such as nuts and olive oil) and lean proteins (such as fish and chicken).
“Typically, what’s good for the heart is good for the brain,” says Michelle M. Mielke, PhD, associate professor in the department of health sciences research at the Mayo Clinic whose research focuses on Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. After all, your brain needs about 20% of the blood your heart pumps in order to get enough oxygen and fuel—which means if your heart isn’t in tip-top shape, your brain cells may have trouble getting what they need to function optimally.
To fuel your body and brain, load up on the following key players in the MIND diet:
Seafood offers at least two nutrients that help keep your mind sharp: Omega-3 fats and vitamin D. Tufts University research found that people who ate fish like salmon, tuna, and halibut three times a week reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by nearly 40%. “Omega-3 fatty acids contain DHA and EPA, which are highly concentrated in the brain and are crucial for optimal brain function,” says Joy Dubost, PhD, RD, a dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Fatty fish are also a great source of vitamin D, says Dubost, and numerous studies indicate D can help protect the brain. “Just one 4-ounce piece of cooked salmon contains 600 IU of vitamin D,” she says, “which is pretty high for a food source of D.”
Green leafy vegetables
Loaded with vitamin K, greens such as spinach, kale, and collards have been shown to slow cognitive decline. According to a new study from Rush University Medical Center, people who ate 1 to 2 servings of leafy greens each day had the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger than those who consumed none.
Chalk up one more reason why this oil is a smart choice: It’s an excellent source of polyphenols—powerful antioxidants that have can help prevent and even reverse age- and disease-related memory problems. Research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that extra virgin olive oil improves learning and memory, and other studies have shown that swapping saturated fats for mono- and polyunsaturated fats (like the kind found in olive oil) is associated with a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
This super berry contains an antioxidant—anthocyanin—that may be particularly healthy for your brain. Recent research from Tufts University found that anthocyanins can cross the blood-brain barrier, protecting brain cells from oxidation and boosting communication between brain neurons. A Harvard Nurses’ Health Study of 16,000 women over the age of 70 found that women who consumed 2 or more half-cup servings of blueberries or strawberries per week remained mentally sharper than those who didn’t eat the berries. Tufts animal studies have found that blueberries help improve short-term memory, navigational skills, balance and coordination.