Brain foods on a budget

Brain foods on a budget

These foods can help prevent Alzheimer’s and improve memory and cognitive health — without breaking the bank

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What you eat can have a major impact on your well-being, including your brain health and memory. In fact, eating certain foods might help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

One diet called the MIND diet has gotten a lot of attention for its brain health benefits. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It has been shown to help slow brain aging by 7.5 years and reduce the chances of developing dementia.*

What is the MIND diet?

The MIND diet is made up of these healthy foods:

  • Leafy green vegetables (6+ servings per week)
  • Other vegetables (1+ servings per day)
  • Berries (2+ servings per week)
  • Whole grains (3+ servings per day)
  • Fish (1 serving per week)
  • Poultry (2 servings per week)
  • Beans (3 servings per week)
  • Nuts (5 servings per week)
  • Olive oil

There’s also a list of foods to limit:

  • Red meat
  • Sweets
  • Cheese
  • Butter or margarine
  • Fast food or fried food

Keep reading to learn more about the science behind MIND-diet foods. Plus, discover ways to save on these superfoods.

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Berries can slow cognitive decline, so you have less trouble with memory, concentration and decision making. These fruits are rich in substances called antioxidants that help fight the effects of aging. One study of middle-aged adults found those who ate the most antioxidant-rich foods were 20 percent less likely to have early signs of declining brain health later in life.*

Money-saving tip: Buy frozen berries, which are generally less expensive than fresh. Many people think fresh berries are healthier than frozen. But that’s not the case with berries. 

Leafy greens

Eating leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach may slow down age-related memory loss. In one study, participants who ate leafy greens had brains that worked as well as those of people 11 years younger.* The power of leafy greens may lie in a combo of nutrients, including vitamin K, folate (a B vitamin) and antioxidants, such as lutein.

It takes only 1 cup of fresh greens a day, or ½ cup of cooked dark leafy greens, to get the benefits.

Money-saving tip: Leafy greens tend to be available year-round, so they’re lower priced than other seasonal fruits and veggies. But you can still save money by avoiding bagged salad mixes. They cost more than a bunch of greens and might not stay fresh for as long.

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Nuts such as walnuts, pecans and almonds are packed with healthy omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. They’re a great swap for processed chips and cookies. One study found that people older than 55 who ate nuts every day had better brain function than those who didn’t.*

Money-saving tip: Buy in bulk. Nuts can last four to six months — or longer if you store them in the fridge. So they’re a great item to load up on. If you don’t have a membership at a wholesale warehouse, try discount supermarket chains.

Lean proteins such as chicken, and fish and beans

Red meat such as beef is high in saturated fat, which is bad for the brain. It should be avoided as much as possible. A better bet is chicken or beans. Chicken and beans have plenty of B vitamins, which you need for brain health. Fatty fish such as tuna or salmon is also a smart food. It’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Money-saving tip: Poultry and seafood are good options to buy in bulk. Keep some in the refrigerator. Then freeze the rest in portion-sized bags. Fish can be more expensive, so save it for an occasional treat. Also, canned and frozen fish do the trick too, and they’re cheaper than fresh. One serving a week is all you need to get brain-boosting benefits, according to MIND-diet researchers.*

Olive oil

Some fats can speed up brain aging. On the list are butter, margarine and some oils such as corn or canola. But other fats, such as the healthy monounsaturated fat found in olive oil, help your brain. A recent study found that eating more than ½ tablespoon (7 grams) of olive oil a day lowered the risk of neurodegenerative diseases (like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) by 29 percent.*

Money-saving tip: Buy store-brand olive oils — they usually cost less than a name brand. They are made under a special label, sometimes with the store name. You might have to look on shelves that are higher or lower than eye level to find them.

The bottom line

Remember: You don’t have to follow all the rules of the MIND diet to get some major brain benefits. Making a few smart food switches whenever possible can go a long way toward helping your mind and body stay healthy. And, as always, talk to your doctor before making any dietary changes.

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*FOR HEALTH BENEFITS OF THE MIND DIET SOURCE: Crom TOE, Mooldijk SS, Ikram MK et al. MIND diet and the risk of dementia: a population-based study. Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy. January 12, 2022; 14(8). Accessed September 21, 2023.

*FOR LINK BETWEEN COGNITIVE HEALTH AND BERRIES SOURCE: Yeh TS, Yuan C, Ascherio A et al. Long-term dietary flavonoid intake and subjective cognitive decline in US men and women. Neurology. September 7, 2021; 97(10). Accessed September 21, 2023.

*FOR LINK BETWEEN COGNITIVE HEALTH AND LEAFY GREENS SOURCE: Morris MC, Wang Y, Barnes LL et al. Nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables and cognitive decline; prospective study. Neurology. January 16, 2018; 90(3): e214-e222. Accessed September 21, 2023.

*FOR LINK BETWEEN COGNITIVE HEALTH AND NUTS SOURCE: Li M and Shi Z. A prospective association of nut consumption with cognitive function in Chinese adults aged 55+ — China health and nutrition survey. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging. 2019; 23(2): 211-216. Accessed September 21, 2023.

*FOR LINK BETWEEN COGNITIVE HEALTH AND LEAN PROTEINS SOURCE: Mayo Clinic. Maximize memory function with a nutrient-rich diet. October 7, 2020. Accessed September 28, 2022. Accessed September 21, 2023.

*FOR LINK BETWEEN COGNITIVE HEALTH AND OLIVE OIL SOURCE: Guasch-Ferre M, Li Y, Willet WC et al. Consumption of olive oil and risk of total and cause-specific mortality among U.S. adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. January 2022; 79(2): 101-112. Accessed September 21, 2023.

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