Healthy Foods that Protect Your Brain

A doctor weighs in on the foods most proven to support and protect your brain health

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Have you ever stopped to think about how the foods you eat might affect your brain?

Many of us know that certain fats provide heart health benefits or that protein is important for building and maintaining muscle mass, but the benefits that our brains acquire from eating nutritious foods aren’t discussed as frequently.

Knowing what types of foods will help support and protect your brain is actually pretty important, though — and especially when it comes to being proactive about preventing depression, Alzheimer’s disease and even cancer.

For example, a recent study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association found that what researchers have dubbed the “MIND” diet  — or the “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay” diet — may have the ability to significantly reduce a person’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s.

According to researchers at Rush University where the study was conducted, the MIND diet combines foods from both the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, which have both been associated with a reduced risk for heart diseases including, hypertension, heart attack and stroke.  

The study’s lead author, Rush nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, Ph.D. said that like with heart disease, scientists believe many different elements — including behavioral, environmental and genetic factors — likely contribute to Alzheimer’s, but that diet likely plays a significant role.

“With late-onset [Alzheimer’s], with that older group of people, genetic risk factors are a small piece of the picture,” Morris said. “Past studies have yielded evidence that suggests that what we eat may play a significant role in determining who gets [Alzheimer’s] and who doesn’t.”

So, which foods are most likely to help you maintain a healthy brain?

To help highlight some of the most brain-friendly foods and their benefits, we recruited Dr. Michael S. Fenster, M.D., a board certified interventional cardiologist and author of The Fallacy of the Calorie: Why the Modern Western Diet is Killing Us and How to Stop It.

He considers the following healthy foods (many of which are a part of the MIND Diet) some of the best for supporting brain health and maintaining excellent cognitive function all throughout life.

Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous Veggies

“[This] includes broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, bok choy and Brussels sprouts,” Fenster said. “These vegetables are rich sources of minerals, vitamins and many important phytochemicals; especially many sulfur containing compounds. As such, they help our bodies deal with oxidative stress by providing a natural source of antioxidants. This results in a lower risk of cancer as well as a significant cardiovascular benefit. The end result is a reduction in conditions that affect brain function, like stroke.” Fenster explained that diets rich in these types of vegetables have been associated with less decline in memory, attention and verbal abilities.

Leafy Greens
leafy greens

This category includes greens like spinach, chard and collards, which Fenster said in a one-cup serving provide nearly 400 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A, plus a significant amount of vitamins C, E and folic acid. “Studies have shown that diets rich in leafy greens can help protect against Alzheimer’s type dementia,” Fenster said. “For this reason, leafy greens were one of the two food groups added to the traditional Mediterranean diet to create the neuro-protective ‘MIND’ diet variant.”

Click here to see more of the best foods for brain health.

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