The brain is one of the body’s most complex and important organs. That’s why keeping it healthy is critical, especially as you get older. Researchers from the Rush University Medical Center and the Harvard School of Public Health have found that people who stuck to a diet that included foods like berries, leafy greens and fish (referred to in their study as the “MIND Diet”) had a major drop in their risk Alzheimer’s, which affects more than 5 million Americans over age 65 (1). There is also evidence that taking good care of the microbial residents in our gut, collectively known as the gut microbiota, and eating a diet low in sugars and refined carbohydrates are protective against neurological diseases, as outlined in David Perlmutter’s new book, Brain Maker (2).
Here’s is the 360-MD version of a brain-healthy diet, which combines aspects of both the MIND diet and Perlmutter’s book.
Eat plenty of (multiple times daily):
- Green, purple, and red leafy vegetables: kale, collards, broccoli rabe, lettuce, radicchio, watercress, radish greens, spinach, bok choy, dandelion greens, arugula, and Swiss chard.
- Other vegetables, especially colorful ones: green & purple cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, artichokes, carrots, parsnips, garlic, onions, leeks, shallots, ginger, radishes, kohlrabi, fennel, jicama, green beans, turnips, mushrooms, all herbs.
- Low-sugar fruits: tomatoes, bell peppers, avocadoes, pumpkin, zucchini, squash, eggplant, lemons & limes, cucumbers.
- Protein: whole eggs, wild fish & other seafood, meat & poultry from pasture-raised animals, wild game.
- Nuts & seeds: almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds.
- Berries: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries.
- Legumes: all beans and lentils, soaked for 12-24 hours prior to cooking.
- Non-gluten whole grains: oats, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, rice, teff, millet.
- Healthy fats: olives & extra-virgin olive oil, coconuts & coconut oil, sesame oil, nut oils & nut butters, lard/butter/ghee from grass-fed or pasture-raised animals, avocados & avocado oils, aged & cultured cheeses.
- Probiotic-rich foods: sauerkraut, kimchi, cultured vegetables, fermented pickles, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, tempeh.
Eat in moderation (no more than once a day, best to limit to 2-3 times a week):
- Coffee, wine & dark chocolate: about one serving per day.
- Whole milk & cream: cow’s milk, goat milk, unsweetened cream, half & half.
- Fresh cheeses: ricotta, mozzarella, chevre, brie, cottage cheese, cream cheese.
- Butter: limit to less than 1 teaspoon per day if it comes from conventionally raised animals.
- Gluten grains: whole wheat, barley, rye.
- Sweet fruits: oranges, apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, apricots, mangoes, melons, papayas, plums, pineapples.
- Sweeteners: honey, maple syrup, molasses, stevia. Less than 1 tsp per day, not daily.
Avoid (limit to once a week or less):
- Meat & poultry from conventionally raised animals.
- Skim milk, low-fat cheese, processed dairy.
- Refined grains: white flour, pasta, pizza, pastries.
- Sweeteners: sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, desserts.
- Processed soy products.
- Vegetable oils: canola, sunflower, safflower, corn, soy, cottonseed, rapeseed.
- Margarine & other hydrogenated fats.
- Fried or fast food.
- Morris et al., 2015. MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 11(9): 1015-1022.
- Perlmutter, David. 2015. Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain — for Life. Little, Brown and Company, New York.