Bettering Your Brain Function with the DASH Diet

By Sarah Samaan, Rosanne Rust, Cynthia Kleckner

Whether you have simple brain fog or true mild cognitive impairment (MCI), the food you eat really does matter. If you want to keep your brain humming along like the beautiful miracle of nature that it is, you have to feed it well, and that’s where the DASH diet can help.

That means laying off the sausage muffins, pepperoni pizza, and cheeseburgers. Without a healthy start, middle, and end to your day, you can’t possibly function at your very best.

Fortunately, eating The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)-approved foods in the proper number of servings per day can help support good brain health in a variety of ways:

  • Tests of memory, learning, and brain function have found that people with amped-up blood sugar levels do worse than those with normal levels, even in people who don’t have full-fledged diabetes. By choosing DASH, you’ll cut back on simple carbs that raise your blood sugar quickly, including sodas and processed snack foods, and you’ll increase complex carbohydrates like vegetables and whole grains.

  • Artery-blocking saturated fats are abundant in red meat and full-fat dairy foods, and they make up about 16 percent of calories in a typical Western diet. Studies of adults of all ages have found a strong connection between high saturated fat intake and poorer performance on tests of memory and mental skills. DASH cuts these harmful fats by nearly two-thirds.

  • A sub study of DASH found that after just four months on the plan, those who were assigned to DASH versus a typical Western diet had sharper mental reflexes. Those who also participated in a weight-loss program, including aerobic exercise and reduced calories, tested even better, showing improvements in problem-solving and memory.

  • If you’re 65 or older, DASH gives you the edge when it comes to MCI. An 11-year study of more than 3,800 seniors in Utah found that those whose diets were more like DASH scored higher on tests of brain function. The foods that researchers found to be especially brain-friendly were whole grains, nuts, and legumes.

    Studies of similar diets, particularly those including more olive oil, have also found a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s dementia.