Eating More Of These Foods Can Offer A Super-Duo Of Benefits, Research Suggests
Can these little changes make a big impact?
You know the old saying you are what you eat? While that might not be strictly true, crucial components of well-being—like cardiac and cognitive health—can be impacted by your diet. In some cases, simple swaps can make a big difference.
A new study from researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine has linked eating more specific plant-based foods and less animal products with lower risk of heart disease and dementia.
What specific dietary changes can help?
While the study does state that eating more plant-based and limiting foods high in saturated fat (and animal products in general) can help support brain and heart health, they specifically call attention to two groups of superfoods in the plant-based sphere: berries and green leafy vegetables.
The study focused on a particular style of plant-based eating known as the MIND diet, which was "developed as an intervention to help reduce cognitive decline and fight against Alzheimer's and dementia," according to certified dietitian and nutritionist Isabel Smith, R.D., CDN.
The new study, based on data from 2,512 participants, found that diets designed to help support heart health also had benefits for brain health. "Our findings highlight the importance of adherence to the MIND diet for a better cardiovascular health," explained corresponding author Vanessa Xanthakis, Ph.D.
For a point of reference, this diet is a sort of blend between the immensely popular the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and was designed to help manage or prevent high blood pressure. And of course the Mediterranean diet has its origins in heart health research: it was studied while observing the diets and overall health of seven countries, in relation to heart disease risk. Therefore, it's not a big jump to see how the diet could also lead to heart health benefits, even when that wasn't the intent of the eating style.
The MIND diet has its own unique attributes, too. One of the key components, according to Smith, is the way this diet emphasizes leafy green vegetables—which the researchers call out. "A few star veggies include spinach, kale, and collard greens, which have been found to be particularly beneficial for brain health due to their source of folate, vitamin E, and carotenoids," she shares.
Another food group the recent research notes is berries—another differentiating component of the MIND diet. "This diet emphasizes eating berries—specifically blueberries and strawberries—as the primary source of fruit and doesn't emphasize any other fruit," writes Smith, who further explains it specifically "suggests two or more servings of berries a week (perfect guidelines for a yummy antioxidant smoothie)."
The easiest way to incorporate more of these foods to your diet
If you're looking for a surefire way to get in more berries and leafy greens, start with your first meal of the day: try a smoothie! It's relatively simple to make a super tasty blend that includes both of these ingredients.
You can find some of our favorite nutrient-packed smoothie recipes here, but once you know what you like, it's simple to iterate and cater to your tastes. To keep things plant-based, use an alternative milk like almond or oat milk and lean on ingredients like banana, avocado, or even frozen cauliflower for creaminess.
If you're more broadly hoping to integrate plant-based vegan eating to your lifestyle, we've compiled some meal inspiration and a grocery list to get you started.