October 2021 Issue
Culinary Corner: Snacking for Brain Health
By Liz Weiss, MS, RDN
Vol. 23, No. 8, P. 66
Brain health is something I think about every day. It’s personal—my dad suffers from Lewy body dementia, a slowly progressive form of dementia that affects more than 1 million Americans and impairs thinking, movement, behavior, and mood. My dad turned 90 last November, and thankfully he still lives at home with my mom. Before his illness, he was a kind, generous, and funny guy who loved tinkering with his antique cars and tending to his garden. Even though he’s entering the final stages of the disease, every now and again, we still get a glimpse of that silly twinkle in his eye.
We’ll never know for sure whether diet played a role in the onset or progression of my dad’s dementia, but a growing body of research points to the MIND diet as a powerful protective tool against cognitive decline and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. MIND, which stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, is a blend of two popular diets: the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Research suggests moderate to strict adherence to the MIND diet can reduce Alzheimer’s disease risk by 35% to 53%, respectively, and slow the rate of brain aging.1,2
The MIND diet includes foods rich in brain-supporting nutrients such as vitamin E, lutein, choline, and omega-3 fatty acids. Nine food categories are included in the MIND diet, plus red wine in moderation. Those foods include leafy greens, other vegetables such as colorful bell peppers and broccoli, berries, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, fish, beans, and poultry. Those who follow a MIND diet also are encouraged to reduce their consumption of added fats and sugars by limiting red meat, butter and margarine, full-fat cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food. While the MIND diet isn’t a magic bullet—there’s no such thing—it holds promise.
To show clients how varied, accessible, and affordable this healthful eating style can be, I assembled a colorful snack board (aka grazing board) filled with nine MIND diet nibbles. Serve in the afternoon as a snack or make it for dinner.
— Liz Weiss, MS, RDN, is a mom of two grown boys with a specialty in family nutrition. She’s the voice behind the family food podcast and blog Liz’s Healthy Table, and her website is filled with easy, flavorful, and nourishing recipes that appeal to both kids and adults. She appears regularly on Boston’s NBC lifestyle show the Hub Today, and she’s a Have a Plant Ambassador for the Produce for Better Health Foundation.
1. Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2015;11(9):1007-1014.
2. Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, et al. MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimers Dement. 2015;11(9):1015-1022.
MIND Diet Snack Board
Snack boards are fun and easy to assemble, and you can fill them with all sorts of nibbles, including these nine MIND diet options. If serving for a snack, friends and family can enjoy a bite or two of everything. If preparing for dinner, plan for a few extra bites per person.
Store-bought spinach and Greek yogurt dip
Carrot and celery sticks, sliced cucumbers, sliced bell peppers, and/or thinly sliced radishes
Sliced strawberries or a mix of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries
Almonds, walnuts, or pistachios or a mix
Green and black pitted olives or a mix
Whole grain crackers
Shrimp and tomato kebabs*
Store-bought chickpea hummus
Place each of the ingredients in small bowls or on small plates. Set out a wooden board (round or rectangular) or large rimmed baking sheet and top with the bowls and plates.
1. To make 6 kebabs, you’ll need six 8-inch wooden skewers. Place 2 cherry tomatoes and 2 cooked shrimp on each. (For the shrimp, you can use frozen or cooked medium or large shrimp.)
2. Thaw 12 shrimp; sauté in large skillet with 1 or 2 teaspoons of olive oil to warm through.
Nutrient Analysis per serving (1 kebab)
Calories: 25; Total fat: 2 g; Sat fat: 0 g; Sodium: 70 mg; Total carbohydrate: 2 g; Dietary fiber: 0 g; Sugars: 1 g; Protein: 2 g
* Chicken Salad
2 cups finely diced cooked chicken (from 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves or one-half of a rotisserie chicken)
1 medium apple, unpeeled and finely diced (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/4 cup finely diced celery
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
Salt and pepper
1. Place the chicken, apple, and celery in a medium bowl and stir to combine.
2. Add the mayonnaise and stir until the chicken mixture is well coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Refrigerate until ready to serve. (Makes 3 cups. Use what you need for the snack board and save leftovers for sandwiches the next day.)
Nutrient Analysis per serving (1/2 cup)
Calories: 129; Total fat: 6 g; Sat fat: 1 g; Sodium: 198 mg; Total carbohydrate: 6 g; Dietary fiber: 1 g; Sugars: 4 g; Protein: 13 g