Nutrition and Brain Health

by Jeannie Versagli, RDN, LDN

Do you notice at times that you find yourself wondering what you were going to say or look for?

As we age the brain naturally begins to decline in cognition; researchers indicate that nutrition can influence and improve cognition.  There are three diets that continue to show promise with improving memory/cognition, they are the MIND, Mediterranean, and DASH Diets.

These diets avoid red meats, butter, stick margarine, cheese, pastries, concentrated sweets, fried foods, and fast foods, instead, they provide high amounts of plant-based foods, olive oil, cold-water fish, and moderate consumption of red wine.  These nutritional programs continue to show their ability to lower the risk of developing cognitive decline with age. Adhering to these nutritional regimes has shown to reduce brain infarcts, which interrupt the blood supply to the brain thus affecting cognition.

Let’s take a closer look at what these diets contain and why they are showing such promise with improving cognitive decline with age.

The Mediterranean diet comes from Southern Italy, Spain and Greece. This diet has proven to promote protection against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and cognitive impairments due to its ability to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.


  • Vegetables:  Consume three servings a day to include dark green and yellow vegetables.   One serving equals ½ cup cooked or 1 cup of raw vegetables. 
  • Fruits: Consume three servings a day. Include berries such as blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries these fruits are rich in antioxidants and flavonoids and have been identified to be beneficial for brain health.  One serving of fresh fruit equals ½ cup cut-up fruit or 1 medium piece of fruit.
  • Legumes: Consume three servings a week of beans, legumes and or peas.  A serving is a ½ cup.
  • Whole Grains:  Consume a minimum of four servings a day.  One serving equals ½ cup cooked grains, one slice of whole-grain high fiber bread or one ounce of whole-grain cereal.  Choose oats, barley, brown rice, and quinoa, which provide an excellent source of fiber and B vitamins. Fiber requirements for men are 30 grams per day and women are 25 grams per day.
  • Spices: Add Turmeric, Cinnamon, Saffron, ginger, and black pepper to your foods daily.
  • Nuts:  Consume three servings a week, one serving equals ¼ cup, or one or two tablespoons of nut butter.  Incorporate walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts.
  • Extra virgin oil: Consume one to four tablespoons per day.
  • Fish/Seafood: Consume three servings per week (4 ounces each) of salmon, mackerel, Blue Fin Tuna, herring, anchovies, or sardines. Walnuts contain high sources of omega 3 fatty acids, consider adding a handful of walnuts to your salad, vegetables or as a snack three times per week.
  • Low-fat dairy:  Consume one serving a day of regular plain yogurt and three servings of 4 ounces cottage cheese weekly.
  • Wine:  Red wine is an excellent source of resveratrol. Resveratrol is known for improving short term memory and its anti-aging properties.   One serving of wine is 5 ounces.  Males are to take no more than two servings daily and females are to consume no more than one serving of red wine daily.
  • Dark chocolate: (70 to 80 % cocoa), contain high sources of the antioxidant flavonoid. Consuming one to two ounces a day will aid in improving short term memory.

The DASH Diet

DASH stands for “dietary approaches to stop hypertension” and is very similar to the Mediterranean diet with a few nutrient adjustments.  This regime emphasizes high consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, one serving of dairy preferably yogurt, beans/legumes and lean meats such as poultry. It requires an intake of no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.  The DASH diet provides an abundant source of nutrients such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium, which have lowering effects on blood pressure. 

DASH guidelines.  See Med guidelines above for specific nutrients in each group.

  • Grains: no less than 4 daily servings
  • Vegetables: 4-5 daily servings.
  • Fruits: 4-5 daily servings.
  • Poultry or fish: 2 or fewer daily servings.
  • Nuts, seeds, and dry beans: 4-5 servings per week.
  • Fats and oils: 2-3 daily servings.
  • Low-fat dairy – plain Greek yogurt: one 6 ounce serving

The MIND diet Developed by Dr. Clare Morris

Dr. Morris put together what she considered the best food sources from the Med and DASH diet to promote brain health and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The diet emphasizes consuming green leafy vegetables rather than all vegetables, berries rather than all fruits, nuts beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and moderate amounts of red wine only.  Dr. Morris found that individuals scored higher on the MIND diet even if adherence was moderate compare to the Med and DASH diet.

Probiotics are now showing promise with improving depression, anger, anxiety, problem-solving ability, ruminating, aggressive thoughts and cognition. These studies are in their early stages but continue to show potential with promoting brain health.  Consuming plain Kefir and plain Greek yogurt will improve gut microbiomes.  There are many probiotic products on the market, by reviewing this web site you can familiarize yourself with the different kind probiotics in products available and their role in the body.

As we have learned evidence suggests that the MIND, DASH, and Mediterranean diets provide promise with improving cognitive function, memory and alertness, through reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.  These findings continue to confirm how nutrition influences our path to wellness.

Nourish to flourish.


Hockessin Athletic Club opened its doors on June 10 2007. Boasting over 100,000 sq. ft., a 5-pool aquatics complex, and over 200+ weekly group and aqua fitness classes, it is Delaware's premier fitness destination. 100 Fitness Way, Hockessin, DE ·

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