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Most people understand a few nutrition basics. The human body loves carbohydrates as an energy source and proteins are super important for building and repairing muscles as well powering many chemical reactions in the body (to name only a few important roles these complex molecules do). What about fueling the most complex, and least understood, organ of the body? As it turns out, eating for brain health is not as complicated as you might think.

A Mediterranean diet has been shown to not only boost mood and brain health but can also lower the risk for dementia and reduce overall inflammation throughout the entire body. A true leader in the anti-inflammatory dietary pattern realm, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole, minimally processed foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish and plant-based fats such as olive oil, nuts and seeds. Limiting highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, added sugars and saturated fats are also key as excessive intake of these components in our dietary pattern increase the risk of inflammation in the brain, believed to be a contributing factor to premature aging of the brain.

Psychological health in general gets a boost from a dietary pattern rich in fruit and veggies. Loaded with magnesium, B vitamins and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, a Mediterranean diet has been associated with less depression and anxiety as well as lower markers of Alzheimer’s disease. Even small steps towards an anti-inflammatory diet such as the Mediterranean diet can have a positive impact on brain health. Aim for ½ your plate to be non-starchy veggies- think greens, beets, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, cauliflower. Fruits with dark, intense color like berries, cherries and red grapes offer certain flavonoids that contribute to brain function. Choose complex, high fiber grains (ideally 5 grams or more of fiber per serving), plant fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil, fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and black cod. Lean animal protein can be balanced with plant protein sources to include legumes and lentils.

As brain health is multifactorial, incorporating all or even some of a Mediterranean diet along with activity, social connections, stress management and quality sleep can dramatically improve both your health and happiness.

Julie Barbaro, RDN, CHC, IFNCP

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