When I lost a loved one to Alzheimer’s disease almost two years ago, I began to grasp just how important it is to maintain mental health throughout life. Even if the disease hasn’t personally affected you, the sheer fact that 1 in 9 people over age 65 has Alzheimer’s may be enough to motivate you to prioritize brain health.
Fortunately, one way to do that is through food – and, in particular, the MIND diet, a way of eating designed to reduce cognitive decline that was a hot topic at the recent Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Boston.
MIND, which stands for the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, combines the most relevant components of the Mediterranean and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. It’s based on a study that shows promise for reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia through certain eating patterns rather than any one nutrient. Though the study doesn’t prove cause and effect, and more trials and research are needed to do so, the diet is a healthy choice overall, whether you’re trying to boost brain health or simply eat well.
Ready to get started? Lucky for you, the foods emphasized in the MIND diet – green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine – are easy to find. Following the plan may even be easier than you expect if you follow these strategies to incorporate the diet’s key foods into your meal prep:
1. Wash and prep leafy greens.
If you’re short on time, buy pre-washed and chopped greens such as kale, spinach, arugula or collard greens. Use them as a base for salads or toss them into soups or pasta.
2. Prep a pot of pulses.
Add pulses – beans, lentils and peas – to salads, or let them be the main entree by making vegetarian burgers. For instance, try mashing black beans with finely diced peppers and onions and mixing in your favorite spices. Then, form the mixture into patties and saute them on a griddle until they’re heated through. Top the patties with salsa and avocado for a flavorful, MIND-friendly meal.
3.Cook a couple batches of whole grains.
Try preparing quinoa, farro, brown or wild rice, or steel cut oats in large batches at once. Full of fiber, whole grains help create a satisfying meal. You can divvy up the portions by eating them throughout the week as a side, a base for grain bowls or as part of a salad or soup.
4. Create some snack packs.
Portion almonds, walnuts, pistachios or pumpkin seeds into small bags or snack jars to take on long car rides or to power you through a long day of meetings at work. Just a handful a day will do.
5. Bring on the berries.
Add a cup of fresh or frozen berries into smoothie bags so you can easily grab and blend them for a quick snack or breakfast on the go. Berries can also be pureed into sauces and vinaigrettes and are sweet stir-ins for oatmeal.
6. Drizzle the olive oil.
Trade your butter for olive oil when you prepare meats and vegetables. You can use it as a base for homemade vinaigrettes as well.
7. Roast, poach or grill chicken or other poultry.
Get creative with poultry without doing a lot of work. Just add a few chicken breasts, onions and garlic to a slow cooker. Throw in your favorite salsa for even more flavor. When it’s ready, chop or shred it and add it to sandwiches, stew and salads.
8. Don’t forget fish.
Include at least one fish dish in your diet each week. Salmon in foil is one easy way to do that. Simply top the fish with olive oil, lemon slices, rosemary and garlic, seal it and bake it at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. For a spin, swap salmon for cod, tuna, trout or your favorite fish and seasonings.
You don’t have to follow all of these strategies every single week, but you might try a few of them as starting points to get in the MIND diet groove. For more details on the eating plan and recipes, check out the MIND diet book, written by a fellow registered dietitian nutritionist, Maggie Moon.