Eating for Your Brain: Two Diets that Can Enhance Neurological Health

What you eat plays a big role in how healthy you are. For years, doctors have said food impacts your heart health. Now, there’s evidence to suggest the same can be said for brain health. You may be able to ward off Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or stroke with what’s on your plate.

Dr. Philip Lee with Mercy Clinic Neurology breaks down two brain diets so you can decide if one may be right for you.

Mediterranean Diet

May help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, heart disease and stroke.

The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the lifestyle and food preparation from countries near the Mediterranean Sea. Research has shown this diet increases lifespan, improves brain and eye function and even helps combat rheumatoid arthritis. It emphasizes:

  • Eating mostly plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts and beans
  • Olive oil as the main source of fat
  • A moderate amount of fish
  • Small amounts of red meat and even white meat like chicken
  • Limited amounts of sweets
  • Red wine, in moderation (no more than two glasses per day). If you don’t drink wine, there’s no need to start
  • Sharing meals with family and friends
Doctors aren’t exactly sure how the Mediterranean diet boosts brain health. One theory is that it’s an anti-inflammatory diet – red meat and fat can cause inflammation, leading to atherosclerosis and swelling of the liver and pancreas. Others believe it’s because you’re consuming lots of fruits and vegetable with healthy phytochemicals that lower your risk factors for neurological conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Lee’s advice is to keep it fresh and cook at home when you can. Avoid animal fat and processed food. Adopt healthy habits from the Mediterranean – turn off the TV, disconnect from your device and be social. Enjoy dinner with your family, visit with your neighbors, take long walks, and embrace the Mediterranean way of life.
Sample dinner menu:
  • Baked salmon
  • Bean salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing
  • Whole wheat bread dipped in olive oil
  • Baked apples with walnuts


May help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. High blood pressure is a risk factor for dementia, so the MIND diet focuses on eating foods that can lower your blood pressure, including:

  • Green, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach
  • All other vegetables and beans
  • Berries (blueberry, raspberry and blackberry).
  • Whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa and brown rice
  • Calcium-rich foods like low-fat and nonfat dairy
  • Foods low in saturated fat and foods with healthy fats, like nuts and olive oil
  • Fish at least once a week
  • Poultry (chicken or turkey). Make sure it’s not fried
  • Red wine, but no more than one glass a day

You should limit your intake of butter and margarine, cheese, red meat, fried food, pastries and other sweets. All of those foods have saturated fats and trans fats, which you want to avoid.

Sample dinner menu:

  • Grilled chicken
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Spinach salad with cherry tomatoes and lower-calorie dressing
  • Low-fat yogurt with strawberries

Talk to your Mercy doctor or dietitian about what plan is best for you. We will work closely with you to develop a personalized plan to help you achieve your health goals.

Written by Philip Lee, MD

Dr. Philip Lee is a fellowship-trained neurologist practicing at Mercy Clinic Neurology in St. Louis. 
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