Healthy food

What’s good for the body is good for the mind

Published Date:

Adhering to a healthy diet can do more than help you lose some weight.

Whether it’s lowering risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, helping the digestive system or simply keeping your eyes, skin and teeth in better shape, eating healthier can make a significant difference for your body.

It’s also good for the brain.

The MIND diet

As we age, Alzheimer’s is something many of us worry about developing. Studies are clear – a healthy diet goes a long way in protecting brain health. It’s something clinicians and researchers at the Smith Alzheimer’s Center at SIU Medicine take seriously.

A study at Rush University in Chicago found that adhering to the MIND diet – a mix of the Mediterranean and DASH diets that emphasize natural plant-based foods and limit intake of saturated fats – lowered the risk of Alzheimer’s by more than 50 percent. Even those who moderately followed the MIND diet lowered their risk by 35 percent.

So, what exactly is in the MIND diet? Let’s take a look:

  • Green, leafy vegetables (1 serving/day)
  • Another vegetable (1 serving/day)
  • Berries (2 servings/week)
  • Nuts, beans and lentils (4 servings/week)
  • Fish and seafood (1 serving/week)
  • Poultry (2 servings/week)
  • Wine (6oz glass/day). Important note: For older adults with memory loss, alcohol consumption is strongly discouraged. 

Those are the basics of the MIND diet. Red meat and cheese are not included in that diet, but they can still be beneficial in moderation. The real area to avoid is ultra-processed foods high in saturated fat or sugar, including chips, fried or fast food, hot dogs, soft drinks, etc.

Mealtime with Alzheimer’s

If you care for someone with Alzheimer’s, you know that meals can take significantly longer. The person with memory loss may not like the food, how it’s presented, the surrounding area or maybe it’s something more. Here are some tips to create a better and more enjoyable mealtime.

  • Don’t rush. Whether it’s starting or finishing their meal, don’t push them. Look for clues in their body language to see what is irritating and wait before offering additional food. 
  • Ambience matters. Make sure the area is quiet. Often when a TV, radio or other noise and movement is on in the background, that can be distracting.
  • Seven-course meal. OK, maybe it doesn’t need to be seven courses, but the idea is to offer one food at a time instead of filling the plate. It eliminates the problem of choosing where to start, and it increases the satisfaction of finishing a plate.
  • Paring down. Dementia affects more than memory loss, it can affect motor skills. It may not be that they dislike the chicken, they may be embarrassed or don’t know how to use a knife and fork to cut it up. Cutting food into smaller pieces (and soft enough as well) helps the meal run more smoothly.
Where do I start?

There’s a prevailing thought – the healthier food, the worse it tastes. Our friends at SIU Culinary Medicine will tell you that couldn’t be more wrong!

The Smith Alzheimer’s Center has collaborated with Culinary Medicine to put together recipes that adhere to the MIND diet, providing ideas and opportunities to try new food in a healthy way. Some are meals, some are snacks, but all provide nutrition for the body and brain.

From flatbreads to granola bars, salads, pasta and more, we have more than 10 ideas to get you started.

To make an appointment at the Smith Alzheimer’s Center’s Memory Clinic, call 217.545.8000.

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