The Connection Between a Healthy Diet & Brain Health

The Connection Between a Healthy Diet & Brain Health

The Connection Between a Healthy Diet & Brain Health

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AdobeStock_210048241Did you know there may be a connection between what you eat and keeping your brain healthy? Research is somewhat limited, says the Alzheimer’s Association, but studies suggest the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and the Mediterranean diet may minimize the risk of dementia. 

With March being National Nutrition Month, now is an excellent time to educate yourself on how your food choices could affect your cognitive health. We sat down with Shannon Braun, Director of Episcopal Retirement Services’ Center for Memory Support and Inclusion, to discuss this topic. 

A Discussion on Nutrition & Cognitive Health with Shannon Braun

Q: Which diet is best for cognitive health? 

Shannon: What’s good for the heart is good for the brain. That’s not always intuitive for people because they often look for something specific. But generally speaking, you have to approach nutrition holistically and not just think about what’s good for your cognitive health, but instead what’s right for your body overall. 

Two of the main diets that people follow for cognitive health are the MIND diet and the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional foods of the countries boarding the Mediterranean Sea, such as France, Greece, Spain and Italy. It encourages eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and heart-healthy fats like olives and avocados.  

The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets. There are no specific guidelines, but the diet encourages people to eat things like green, leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, fish, beans, and poultry. 

Everyone is different, though. Rather than strictly eating a specific selection of foods, you have to evaluate what’s best for your body, your lifestyle, and your happiness.  

Q: How can people go about improving their diet? 

Shannon: It’s all about simple, manageable changes. You might start by limiting certain foods that are not as healthy. You might also replace ingredients with ones that are recommended. When we’re able to make these changes for ourselves, it really feels like we’re contributing to our wellness, which is important too. 

There’s often an aspect of aging and dementia, in particular, that feels out of our control. But when we incorporate things like a change in our diet, exercise routine, or sleeping habits, we feel like active participants in our own wellness. 

Plus, I know when I successfully make small, but healthier choices, it inspires me to make healthier choices across the board. 

Q: What advice do you have for people with dementia or those caring for people with dementia? How can they embrace a healthy diet?  

Shannon: The older we get, the harder it can be to modify your routines. That’s why I think it’s so important to find what works for you. It’s a marathon, not a sprint! 

And if following a specific diet is causing undue stress, then you should take that into account because added stress isn’t good for either dementia or caregiving.

Take wine, for example. Every few years, you’ll see an article saying that red wine is really good for you. But there’s often a caveat. They’ll say, well, it is good, but if you’re not already drinking it, then don’t start drinking right now. And that can cause some confusion. People find themselves wondering, “Wait, so can I still have it?”   

I encourage people to think about what brings them joy. If you and your partner like to have a glass of wine together to unwind at the end of the day, then I think that’s something you should incorporate into your lifestyle — in moderation, of course, and as long as a doctor isn’t advising you against it. 

We’re all often looking for links and avenues through which to find connections. Consider any health concerns you might have as you age, and talk to your primary care physician. But if a particular food or beverage is important in your marriage or just makes you happy, then I think it’s worth exploring ways to incorporate it into your diet.

       “What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.”  

Shannon Braun, Director of ERS’s Center for Memory Support & Inclusion


Q: What about people who don’t have a family history of dementia? Are a healthy diet and brain health still as important? 

Shannon: Yes! A healthy diet and healthy brain are always important. It’s like the adage: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” While it’s best to start making healthy choices early in life, it’s never too late to start prioritizing your cognitive health. 

Eat Better, Live Well 

This March, join us in taking a deeper look at your diet and make a commitment to healthier eating and a healthier brain — for you and your loved ones.

Here at Marjorie P. Lee, we understand the importance of making wise choices that work best for your lifestyle. If you have questions about Marjorie P. Lee’s memory support therapies or our dining services, contact us

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Kristin Davenport

Kristin Davenport

Kristin Davenport is the Director of Communications for Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Kristin leads ERS’s efforts to share stories that delight and inspire through social media, online content, annual reports, magazines, newsletters, public re... Read More >

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