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What's the Best Diet for My Brain?

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Q: What's the Best Diet for My Brain?

A: New research has shown that a healthy Mediterranean diet may prevent the beginning stages of dementia, known as mild cognitive impairment, and may also reduce the risk of developing full-blown dementia in people already experiencing mild cognitive impairment.

Fresh food, fish, & fat—three keys to staying sharp
Researchers assessed the eating habits of 1,875 men and women (average age 77 years), 482 of whom were classified as having mild cognitive impairment. Eating more dairy and meat was classified as not following a Mediterranean diet and bad for health. Eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, fish, and monounsaturated fat, particularly in olive oil, was classified as more closely following a Mediterranean diet and protective of good health.

After following the group for approximately four and a half years, the researchers found that people in the high Mediterranean diet group had 28% lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment than people in the low Mediterranean diet group. Among those with mild cognitive impairment at the beginning of the study, those in the medium and high Mediterranean diet groups had 45% and 48% lower risk, respectively, of developing full-blown dementia or Alzheimer’s disease compared with those in the low Mediterranean diet group.

Healthy choices for a healthy brain
The study found that the less meat and dairy, and the more fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, fish, and olive oil a person ate, the less likely he or she was to develop mild cognitive impairment or dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Use the following diet tips to keep your brain in top form.

  • Start the day with a serving of whole-grain cereal and fruit, such as sliced banana or blueberries (fresh or frozen). Add a few walnuts for a healthy dose of omega-3 fats.
  • For a savory snack, try fresh cut veggies, such as carrots, celery, and red peppers, dipped in humus. Vegetables and legumes are both important parts of a brain-boosting Mediterranean diet.
  • Keep fresh fruit on hand, especially easy-to-tote options like apples and oranges, for when snack attacks hit.
  • If you want to include dairy, opt for low-fat versions such as skim milk and nonfat or low-fat yogurt and cottage cheese. Steer clear of whole milk and full-fat ice cream.
  • Use olive oil to make your salad dressings and for cooking food at home (cook on low heat and do not allow oil to smoke).
  • With dinner, try fresh, whole-grain bread dipped in extra virgin olive oil instead of a roll and butter.
  • Replace one meat meal each week with fish. Try broiling or baking your fish rather than breading and frying.

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