What we eat matters because our food provides us the building blocks required for better health.
But did you know how your food choices also influence your mood, your memory, cognition and decision-making?
High performance brains know that just as athletes take special care with their nutrition, we do too.
But with so much hype, myth and misinformation in abundance, it's become really hard to differentiate fact from fiction when choosing the best foods for body and brain.
Fortunately there is a lot of good science available that has validated which foods do provide us real health and cognitive benefits.
Super foods are not the answer.
On their own, super foods are never enough. While it can be fun to try out different foods and they are certainly not without merit, healthy nutrition requires balance and the inclusion of a wide variety of different foods.
My good friend Jodie Arnot and her business partner Zoe Nicholson set up The Moderation Movement in 2014. They now have close to 23,000 followers on Facebook! I'd highly recommend you check out their FB page - they know their stuff and there is plenty of sound advice to help remove the guilt, stress and worry about what we eat and how we look.
If you are in Melbourne (foodie capital of the Universe), they are running a full day workshop on Feb 27th. If I were going to be in Melbourne on that day, I would be there. Sadly my Invisible Jet won't allow me to do that.
Plugs aside, which foods are recommended for better brainpower?
O.K. To put you out of your misery, the current diet, (apologies, I just loathe the word diet) way of eating now recommended is a hybrid of two other eating plans, one of which you may be more familiar with than the other; the Mediterranean and the DASH diet.
Welcome to the MIND approach to eating.
MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.
The name is the clue as to why it has brainy merit - delaying neurodegeneration sounds a good plan! Naturally it is also good for your body and overall health.
Developed by Martha Morris and her colleagues at Rush University, MIND has shown some early promise in maintaining cognition and brain health.
Following the findings of a recent study that investigated the effectiveness of the MIND diet, the media headlines shrieked how following MIND way of eating was associated with a potential lower risk of Alzheimer's disease to the tune of 35% - 50%. With statistics like that it's really important to keep things in perspective as to what this really means.
Now this is based on one study only, where 923 people aged between 58 and 98 were followed for 4.5 years to investigate the relationship between diet and Alzheimer's disease. While encouraging, much, much more research will be required to verify these findings to see if this is true.
Meanwhile there's nothing to stop you from investigating what the MINDful approach looks like.
To MIND your mind there are basically 10 foods that fall into the brain healthy category and 5 foods that are recommended to either avoid or eat sparingly.
The brain healthy foods include:
- Leafy green veggies. Six serves a week
- Other veggies - yes, not all vegetables are green or leafy. One serve daily.
- Nuts. Five serves a week. That’s 5 small handfuls
- Berries - blueberries were singled out for special mention. Two serves or more per week.
- Beans - Kidney beans, Lima beans, Black beans and of course Baked Beans. Three serves a week.
- Whole grains. Three serves a day
- Fish - naturally because of its Omega-3 content. One serve a week.
- oultry. Two serves a week
- Olive Oil
- Wine (one glass a day - not the bottle)
All these foods have all been shown to have cognitive benefit and basically support what I have been advocating for the last few years.
What you may also notice is how leafy greens take precedence.
Going Green is perhaps the most worthy recipient of our attention for 2016 rather than the latest grain or berry located in remote, difficult to access locations, that require transport by yak to the nearest port for export, and a second mortgage for us to be able to afford the purchase.
What is different perhaps, is that MIND specifically singles out 5 foods in the less healthy bracket:
- Red meat. Less than four serves a week.
- Butter. Less than one tablespoon a day
- Cheese. Less than one serve a week
- Pastries and sweets. Less than five serves a week.
- Fried or fast food. Less than one serve a week.
As someone who loves her cheese (and butter) this will require a little modification in my own diet. Sigh.
How about you?
What's important to note is that this is a suggested eating plan. It doesn't mean that you must never allow a hot buttery crumpet or bacon sandwich to touch your lips again. This is not food fundamentalism, rather a guide to promote better health.
Choosing to eat real food (fresh, unprocessed, mostly plants) that is shared with family or friends is a great way to establish a healthy attitude towards what we eat and gain the benefits a healthy brain and body brings.
Better brain health equates to better thinking.
Are you MINDing your mind?
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Martha Clare Morris, Christy C. Tangney, Yamin Wang, Frank M. Sacks, David A. Bennett, Neelum T. Aggarwal. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's & Dementia, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.jalz.2014.11.009