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3 Key Habits for Better Brain Health

Food for a healthy brain

By Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, Meadows Senior Fellow

…the brain is
the first organ we should cater to if our goal is a better and longer life.

I’ve often noticed in my patients that their most prized organ can be the first one to forget. They come to me for glowing skin, prevention of heart disease or general weight loss but few come and ask for a “brain health” plan. In fact — the brain is the first organ we should cater to if our goal is a better and longer life. The brain does so much more than allow us to process thoughts. The brain is what we need to breath, to pump blood, to see, and, yes — to improve or manage mental health outcomes. That’s right: A healthier brain can mean a happier YOU.

 

In the past decade, numerous studies have emerged showing the impressive role that proper nutrition can have on brain health. Here are three takeaways on how you can improve your brain health.

Mediterranean Diet

1. Mind the brain with a MIND approach

A few years ago, a diet emerged that combined the best of two evidence-backed approaches: the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. When combined, the studies show the results were amazing. The MIND diet lowered the risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 53% in participants who adhered to the diet rigorously, and by about 35% in those who followed it moderately well. Common foods found on the MIND diet include green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fatty fish, lean poultry, and olive oil.

2. Throw in some berries

berries

Berries are a central component in the MIND diet, but these powerful, antioxidant powerhouses have been the focus of other brain related studies as well. A 2020 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that individuals with low consumption of berries (as well as flavonoid-rich tea and apples) had a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s. Further, a 2012 study in the Annals of Neurology found that berry consumption was associated with a 2½-year delay in cognitive decline in older adults. Yet another study, this one from 2016 by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, found that the biochemical compounds in blueberries could help reduce the mental health risks associated with PTSD in rats.

3. Get your omegas

Did you know that depression is less common in populations that eat a lot of fish? Fatty fish like wild salmon and trout are perfect additions to a diet that needs a little mental health TLC. If fish is not your thing, consider an EPA/DHA fish oil supplement instead. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that individuals eating the most fish had a 17% reduction in depression risk compared to those that ate the least.

Fueling well has a lot to do with feeling well. So, as you focus on improving brain health, remember that making small changes in your diet can go a long way toward strengthening your most precious organ.

Kristin Kirkpatrick

About Senior Fellow Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN

Kristin Kirkpatrick is the lead dietitian and manager of Wellness Nutrition Services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in Cleveland, Ohio. A bestselling author, experienced presenter, and award-winning dietitian, Kristin is a sought-after national speaker on a variety of nutrition and wellness-related topics.