Illustration: Chris Gash

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2. Make Smart Food Choices

Research has made it clear that your cranium craves plants. That's one principle behind the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet, a strategic combination of two brain-beneficial eating plans: the Mediterranean-style diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Eating the Mediterranean way has been linked to preserving brain volume, while sticking to the DASH diet has been found to improve blood flow to the brain. "We took these two well-rounded, heart disease–preventive diets and modified them to reflect what we've learned through 20-plus years of research about how nutrition affects the brain," says Martha Clare Morris, ScD, one of the researchers who developed the MIND diet. It emphasizes vegetables and nuts; limits animal products, saturated fat, and sugar; and recommends foods that have been shown in research to buoy brain health. In a 2015 study published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia, people who were most faithful to the MIND diet enjoyed slower cognitive decline—the equivalent of gaining seven and a half healthy brain years. In a second study, that same group was also found to have a 53 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer's compared with those who were least dedicated.

The MIND diet's ten brain-boosting foods (with minimum recommended amounts):

  • Leafy green veggies (six servings per week)
  • Other vegetables (one serving per day)
  • Nuts (five servings per week)
  • Berries (two servings per week)
  • Beans (three servings per week)
  • Whole grains (three servings per day)
  • Fish (one serving per week)
  • Poultry (two servings per week)
  • Olive oil (your main cooking oil)
  • Wine, preferably red (one serving per day)

Olive oil, nuts, whole grains, and leafy greens are rich in vitamin E, which is thought to protect against the buildup of toxic amyloid plaques in the brain as well as safeguard neurons from damaging free radicals. Omega-3s like DHA (in seafood) help improve brain cells' ability to communicate with one another. And it's important to get enough vitamin B12 (plentiful in poultry and fish) since a deficiency can lead to memory loss. Nowhere on the list: sweets. That's because a diet high in sugar can lead to obesity and eventually diabetes—both of which increase dementia risk. "I tell patients to cut added sugar as much as possible if they want a healthy brain," says Dean Sherzai, MD, PhD, codirector of the Brain Health and Alzheimer's Prevention program at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.

As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.