Just like the rest of your body, your brain operates optimally when you nourish it with healthy foods that are full of vitamins and minerals. And some foods are better for your brain than others.
The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) was developed specifically to emphasize foods that slow cognitive decline and avoid ones that speed it up. And it works! The MIND diet has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease by a whopping 53 percent.
So which foods should you add to your diet and which should you ditch to keep your brain at its best?
Greens. At least one serving daily. Research shows that six or more servings of leafy greens (including kale, spinach, romaine, arugula, and bok choy) contain nutrients and bioactives that slow cognitive decline. All other vegetables are welcome, too, so pile them on top of your salads.
Berries. Two servings or more per week.Fruit in general is healthy, but when it comes to brain health, blueberries are the smartest choice, according to research. A close second: strawberries.
Nuts. Enjoy five or more servings per week. People who eat a serving of nuts—about 20 almonds, 15 cashews, or 10 walnuts—every day have better cognitive function than those who don't.
Oatmeal and other whole grains. Replace white carbs with brown ones in most cases, including bread, pasta, and rice. Three servings a day of whole grains is a central component of MIND.
Beans. Four or more servings per week provide magnesium, which helps brain cells use energy, and fiber, which protects arteries and improves blood flow to the brain.
Fish. The MIND diet guideline is one 3- to 6-ounce serving per week (not fried, of course), for brain-protective omega-3 fats.
Poultry. Two servings of chicken or turkey each week provide choline, a B vitamin key to brain development.
Extra virgin olive oil. EVOO contains potent antioxidants that can reverse age- and disease-related learning and memory deficits. Cook with it daily - and dress your salads with your favorite EVOO-based dressing.
A small glass of red wine each day. If it's hard to stick to just one small glass, though, it's better to abstain completely.
AVOID (or limit to just once a week):
Butter, margarine, and coconut oil. Use olive oil for cooking instead.
Red meat. Enjoy poultry and fish instead.
Sweets, pastries, candy, and sugary drinks. Dark chocolate in moderation can satisfy your sweet tooth more healthfully.
Fried foods. Try roasting vegetables with olive oil as an alternative.
Whole-fat cheese. If this is a hard one for you, try limiting yourself to small amounts of cheese as a seasoning (a sprinkle of parmesan for example).
Don't aim for perfection. For now, pick one or two foods on the "add" list and focus on getting more into your diet. With every bite, you'll know you're doing something beautiful for your brain!