Poultry and Berries and Nuts, Oh My!

Raise your hand if the brown bag or Brady Bunch lunchbox you were given as a child contained a bologna sandwich on white bread, a bag of chips, and a Twinkie, plus maybe a container of chocolate milk for good measure. Now raise your hand if you can’t remember what you ate for lunch yesterday.

That’s a lot of hands. We thought so. Because the former–a diet of processed foods–has more than likely influenced the latter–cognitive decline in adulthood.

If the constant whiplash of diet advice–bacon is good, iceberg lettuce is bad! No, wait, bacon is bad, margarine, too–makes you want to throw up your hands in defeat, please don’t. We have good news. Because what’s important to many of us now–particularly today, on World Alzheimer’s Day–is not only physical health, but also keeping our brains agile well into our twilight years. And the advice we’re about to give you regarding the MIND diet–Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay–will not only keep your body healthy, your blood pressure low, and the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and several other diseases at bay, it has been scientifically proven to delay and in some cases reduce cognitive decline.

Yes, we know, diet fads come and go. The food pyramid we were taught back in grade school has been flipped upside down. Fats have been reconsidered, the sugar lobby is corrupt, and bologna on white bread is pretty much one of the worse things you could have put in your growing body. Oops! But scientists have now proven that eating more of the ten foods the MIND diet encourages you to eat, while eating less of the five foods it recommends that you limit, is the best protection and cognitive boost for your aging brain.

Also, a quick note. These foods are specific to the MIND diet. For example, while both the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH diet encourage eating lots of fruit–and we’re all for fruits– the MIND diet specifically says to eat berries for optimal cognitive health. So to optimize your brain health for the long term, stick to the following guidelines for the MIND diet:

10 FOODS YOU SHOULD CONSUME ON THE MIND DIET

  • Green, leafy vegetables: We’re talking kale, spinach, cooked greens and salads. Aim for six times a week.
  • Other vegetables: Go crazy with the red peppers, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, and the like, which are rich in nutrients and low in calories, while limiting starchy vegetables such as potatoes.
  • Berries: At least twice a week. Any and all berries count.
  • Nuts: Five servings a week, doesn’t matter what kind.
  • Olive oil: Eat it on salads and use it as your main cooking oil
  • Whole grains: Try to eat whole grains every day, if you can. Best are those such as brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat or whole grain bread.
  • Fish: Yes, it’s sometimes hard to find fish at your local grocery store, but if you aim for once a week, that’s great. Fatty fish with high omega-3 fatty acids are best, such as salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and mackerel.
  • Beans: Beans, beans, the musical fruit, the more you eat, the more you…oh, never mind. Beans are great! All of the beans. Eat them four times a week.
  • Poultry: No, not the fried kind in the fast food bucket, we’re talking roasted, baked, or lightly sauteed chicken or turkey, twice a week.
  • Wine: Yes! You can drink on the MIND diet. But always in moderation. One glass a day is fine, less so is fine, too. White and red are both okay, but scientists believe that the resveratrol in red wine might help protect against Alzheimer’s.

5 FOODS TO AVOID

  • Butter and margarine: Limit your intake to 1 tablespoon a day, if that. Better yet, just dip that whole wheat bread in some delicious olive oil or spread some avocado on your toast.
  • Cheese: We know. We know! Cheese is so yummy. But the MIND diet recommends limiting cheese consumption to one serving per week. (Sorry.)
  • Red meat: Limit intake to no more than three servings a week, if that. This includes all products made from cows, pigs, and lambs.
  • Fried food: Just don’t. If you have to have the French fries, just have a few and offset it with some leafy greens.
  • Pastries and sweets: No, we are not saying you can never have dessert or a breakfast muffin again. We are saying limit the number of times you have such treats to four times a week at the most, particularly all the processed junk food in the grocery stores, but also ice cream, homemade cookies/brownies, coffee cakes, donuts, candy, croissants, you get the picture.

To be fair, our parents didn’t know. They thought they were doing well by us feeding us the junk they fed us. But for any of you who’ve seen Alzheimer’s disease up close, you know how heartbreaking it can be to watch the person you love fade away.

The MIND diet has been proven to help on that front. And it’s never too late to begin a new routine. So go ahead. Dig out that old lunchbox. You may no longer be able to fit into your bell bottoms, but you can surely fill that old tin box with a turkey sandwich with lettuce and avocado on wheat bread, a cup of berries, a handful of nuts, some lentils, and a nice Chianti to wash it down.

Now that’s a school lunch to remember.

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Editor’s note: This is the first in a 7-part series created by Neurotrack about maintaining your cognitive health and well-being. It’s Neurotrack’s way of marking World Alzheimer’s Month. The science is clear, the evidence unequivocal: the new habits you start today can make an enormous difference in the health of your brain of tomorrow. Next week we will discuss stress: its ill effects on cognitive health and how you can learn to mitigate it. Please check back here to learn more.

Deborah Copaken
Deborah Copaken

Deborah Copaken, Head Writer at Neurotrack, is also a New York Times bestselling author of The Red Book and Shutterbabe, among others. Her work appears regularly in The Atlantic as well as in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Nation, The Washington Post, and many others.