The case for MINDful eating 

Putting your best brain forward when you're 100!

click to enlarge SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - brain food Following the MINDful diet can drastically reduce the likelihood of Alzheimer's and slow cognitive decline as we age.
  • shutterstock.com
  • brain food Following the MINDful diet can drastically reduce the likelihood of Alzheimer's and slow cognitive decline as we age.

Long before the mindfulness trend swept pop culture—mindful yoga, mindful meditation, general mindful living—first in the glorious hippie-'70s and now the neo-hippie revival era, there was the original mindfulness principle of ancient Eastern philosophies.

The idea, in a nutshell, is to be fully present in the present moment, no judgment allowed. Or, in even shorter shorthand, as the old hipster guru Baba Ram Dass (R.I.P.) and his seminal book puts it, "Be here now."

I once spent a month or so "being here now" in a Buddhist monastery in northern Thailand. (Sorry, the old hard drive can't compute the timeframe exactly.) It was a spartan but interesting adventure: No street clothes allowed. Nothing in your barebones room but a mat to sleep and "sit" on. No reading. No unnecessary talking. No eating except once a day at a communal table, although most of us snuck in a few worldly pleasures.

At the end of our retreat, we were supposed to be "sitting" (mindfully meditating), honing our minds with their newly focussed wavelengths, 20 hours a day. I only made it to 14. My knees were giving way, but I'd say my brain was definitely bolstered.

According to Statistics Canada, people over 65 should make up about one quarter of our population by 2030, while centenarians are already our fastest-growing age group! Life expectancy has recently stalled a bit in places like Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., largely due to the opioid crisis, but scientists are predicting we'll soon see ever-increasing lifespans again.

Believe it or not, a recent Guardian report citing UN data indicates that Hong Kong, at 84.6 years, is now No. 1 world-wide for life expectancy, surpassing Japan, the traditional hotbed of longevity. (Think "Okinawan diet" with all its tofu, fish, fresh veggies and grains.)

By the same UN stats, we Canadians are still in the top 10, with a life expectancy of 82.2 years. Not bad, considering 100 years ago, women in Canada were looking at living about 60 years; men a year or so less. (Why do you think the federal government set the retirement age for pensions at 65 back in 1927? They figured hardly anyone would be around to collect them!)

Now, with newborns today predicted to have a 50-per-cent chance of living to 105 (there was a one-per-cent chance of making it that far back in the 1900s), and the rate for dementia for Canadians 65 and over doubling ever five years, I say do every little thing we can to maintain a healthy mind along with our much longer-living bodies.

If we live one more day than today, we're super lucky. But our brains will be one day older, too. Never mind having something "interesting" happening to your brain, say, a stroke, like I had a few years back, as did Ram Dass years before he died: Older minds just don't function as well as younger ones.

Yes, the science is stacking up that the centre in our brains that regulates memory, learning and mood does create new neurons (we once thought that didn't happen at all past our teenage years). But we don't do it as fast as we did when younger.

Luckily, scientists and researchers are all over this.

I don't need to remind anyone living in the Sea to Sky to keep moving, keep moving, keep moving—every single day—to put your best mind forward as you age. Even a walk to the end of the driveway is better than nothing. Now, I'm also happy to learn through Vancouver General Hospital's excellent Cardiac Rehab Program about how effective the aptly-named MIND diet can be.

You've likely heard of the DASH diet for high blood pressure (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diet for a healthy heart. Well, the MIND diet—short for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay—combines the two for better brain health.

I'm no fan of diet fads. But the results from this diet say it all. Researchers tracked the eating habits of older adults for 4.5 years, and, according to the Mayo Clinic, "observational studies suggest the (MIND) diet can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by up to 53 per cent as well as slow cognitive decline and improve verbal memory."

Bonus: those who most closely tracked the MIND diet had brains as sharp as people 7.5 years younger!

So how can we lose? I'm all in for being MINDful!

You?

Blow your own MIND

Lots of info resides online about the MIND diet, but this handy Mayo Clinic checklist is a great first step.

Give yourself a point for each of these MIND diet rules you typically follow, up to a max of 15 points. You don't have to follow the diet exactly to benefit. But the more you do, the more your brain will love you.

• At least three servings of whole grains a day

• Green leafy vegetables (such as salad) at least six times a week

• Other vegetables at least once a day

• Berries at least twice a week

• Red meat less than four times a week

• Fish at least once a week

• Poultry at least twice a week

• Beans more than three times a week

• Nuts at least five times a week

• Fried or fast food less than once a week

• Mainly olive oil for cooking

• Less than a tablespoon of butter or margarine a day

• Less than a serving of cheese a week

• Less than five pastries or sweets a week

• One glass of wine or other alcoholic drink a day

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who anticipates that, after following the MIND diet, she'll recall exactly how long she spent in that Buddhist monastery.

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