Which are the best foods to MIND your mind

Great Health Guide - - CONTENTS - Jenny Brockis

With so much ad­vice that is of­ten con­flict­ing about the best foods to eat, it can get con­fus­ing to know ex­actly what is good or not so good for our bod­ies and brains. While choles­terol re­cently lost its ‘Mr. Evil’ tag in the fats race, los­ing out to the even more sin­is­ter ‘Mas­ter Trans Fats’, sugar is now in pole po­si­tion as the cham­pion of all nas­ties. With more and more peo­ple choos­ing to go lac­tose free, gluten free, raw, pa­leo or ve­gan, it’s get­ting to the point where hold­ing a din­ner party for friends is nigh on im­pos­si­ble.

In 2014 David Katz and Stephanie Meller un­der­took a meta-anal­y­sis of all the cur­rently trend­ing di­ets to see which if any were su­pe­rior to oth­ers. What they dis­cov­ered was that while all had some good points, the find­ings in­di­cated that what mat­tered the most was eat­ing a wide va­ri­ety of fresh (mostly plants) and un­pro­cessed foods and not too much!

The Mediter­ranean style of eat­ing has been ex­ten­sively stud­ied over the years and has been shown to as­sist with bet­ter re­ten­tion of mem­ory and cog­ni­tion over the longer

term. An­other good meal plan de­vised for hy­per­ten­sion is Di­etary Ap­proaches to Stop Hy­per­ten­sion (DASH) which is rich in veg­eta­bles, fruits and low fat dairy prod­ucts but low in salt.

Now there’s a new kid on the block for brain healthy eat­ing, com­piled by an Amer­i­can re­searcher Martha Clare Mor­ris and her team based at Rush Univer­sity. All foods in this plan were cho­sen be­cause they had been shown in sci­en­tific stud­ies to pro­mote bet­ter brain health and func­tion - which has to be a good thing!

At first glance it is very sim­i­lar to the Mediter­ranean diet, but with a cou­ple of dif­fer­ences. Mor­ris be­lieves it is an eas­ier plan to fol­low. The plan pro­vides a guide for the num­ber of rec­om­mended min­i­mum serves for the 10 dif­fer­ent foods to be con­sumed on a daily or weekly ba­sis. It also in­cludes five foods that are sug­gested we should eat less of.

What is use­ful here is that it is a guide not a dogma. It’s not say­ing that ‘thou shalt not ever con­sume’ a French fry or cho­co­late-coated Krispy Kreme again. It’s about en­cour­ag­ing us to eat more of the healthy foods and less of the not so healthy stuff.

This is help­ful be­cause we are crea­tures of habits, of­ten with well-es­tab­lished likes and dis­likes. Try­ing to make too big a change to our way of eat­ing of­ten fails be­cause habits can be tricky to dis­lodge and when we are un­der pres­sure, tired or su­per hun­gry we de­fault to our old pat­terns of eat­ing.

What is ex­cit­ing has been the un­der­stand­ing that it is our gut biome - that 1.5 kg of bac­te­ria that live in our gut, di­rect our food choices. And you thought you had free will! What has also been dis­cov­ered is that by in­tro­duc­ing small changes to our diet we can start to change our likes and dis­likes of dif­fer­ent foods and the species of bac­te­ria that in­habit our gut will quickly change in just a cou­ple of days.

The MIND Diet (Mediter­ranean-DASH In­ter­ven­tion for Neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive De­lay) de­scribed be­low has sim­i­lar­i­ties with the two other healthy di­ets, the DASH diet and the Mediter­ranean diet.

The MIND Diet in­cludes the fol­low­ing 10 items and groups.

1. Green leafy veg­eta­bles: with a min­i­mum of 6 serves a week. We al­ways knew Mum was right when she told us to eat our greens. Spinach, broc­coli, kale and Ro­maine let­tuce make a great start.

2. Other veg­eta­bles: one serve ev­ery day to pro­vide a wide range of dif­fer­ent vi­ta­mins and nu­tri­ents.

3. Nuts: a small hand­ful (e.g. 6 al­monds) 5 serves a week is packed with healthy fats and an­tiox­i­dants. They keep you feel­ing full and can help lower choles­terol.

4. Berries: blue­ber­ries, straw­ber­ries, black­ber­ries take your pick. At least two serves a week.

So which are the best foods to boost mem­ory and cog­ni­tion?

5. Beans: chick­peas, kid­ney beans, black beans etc. Why not use them as the ba­sis for a veg­e­tar­ian meal three times a week? They pro­vide a great source of pro­tein and fi­bre and slow re­lease of en­ergy.

6. Whole grains: three serves a day. Oats, bar­ley, rye and wheat.

7. Fish and other seafood: one serve a week. This is the main dif­fer­ence from the Mediter­ranean diet that en­cour­ages four or more serves a week. 8. Poul­try: two serves each week.

9. Olive oil: use in sal­ads and cook­ing, where a high tem­per­a­ture is not re­quired. It’s the oleo­can­thol that pro­vides the ben­e­fit.

10. Wine: up to one glass a day (not the bot­tle). A stan­dard drink is 125 mL.

In the foods that are in the ‘rec­om­mended to eat less of’ group there were no ma­jor sur­prises, bar per­haps one.

1. Red meat: up to 4 serves a week is fine.

2. But­ter and mar­garine: less than one ta­ble­spoon a day.

3. Cheese: Less than one serve a week.

4. Pas­tries and sweets: less than 5 serves a week.

5. Fried or fast foods: less than 1 serve a week.

For some­one like me with a ‘cheese’ tooth, cut­ting down my cheese con­sump­tion will be the hard­est thing to do. I’d hap­pily swap all my pas­tries and sweets for an ex­tra serve of creamy goat’s cheese. It’s im­por­tant to re­move the guilt from eat­ing and to savour the amaz­ing ar­ray of dif­fer­ent foods flavours and tex­tures our diet can pro­vide.

One in­cen­tive to be­ing more MIND­FUL about what you eat, could be the find­ing of an ini­tial study un­der­taken by Mor­ris and her col­leagues. Nine hun­dred peo­ple who fol­lowed the MIND diet where found to lower their po­ten­tial risk of Alzheimer’s by a whop­ping 54% if they ad­hered to it very closely. But even those who weren’t quite as fas­tid­i­ous also showed a re­duc­tion in their po­ten­tial risk of the dis­ease by 35%!

Nat­u­rally watch­ing our diet alone is not enough to ward off the rav­ages of dis­ease such as Alzheimer’s. How­ever, as part of a brain healthy life­style that in­cludes reg­u­lar ex­er­cise, stim­u­late your brain with plenty of men­tal chal­lenge, keep your stress in check and get enough sleep and you’ll be con­tribut­ing to stay­ing as healthy as you can for the longer term.

It’s not what we do on a given oc­ca­sion but our over­all pat­tern that counts.

Dr Jenny Brockis spe­cialises in the science of high per­for­mance think­ing. She is the au­thor of Fu­ture Brain - The 12 Keys to Cre­ate Your High-Per­for­mance Brain, (Wi­ley) avail­able at all lead­ing book stores, on­line re­tail­ers and from her web­site.

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