When it comes to nutrition and epilepsy well, my comfort food is pizza. And those of you who know me personally know I will never turn down a good (or even a bad) whiskey when offered one. I am the furthest thing from the model when it comes to eating habits. But now that I’m not only living with epilepsy but also have cancer (my own), heart disease (my dad’s), and alzheimers disease (my mom’s) hanging over my head. So, it can’t hurt to look into eating a little healthier.
That said, I have looked into the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diets, both of which I will explain further below. In my research I have discovered the MIND diet combines the best elements of the two.
According to the Mayo Clinic, DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet is a healthy-eating plan designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension). The DASH diet includes foods that are rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium. These nutrients help control blood pressure. The diet limits foods that are high in sodium, saturated fat and added sugars.
Studies have shown that the DASH diet can lower blood pressure in as little as two weeks. The diet can also lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels in the blood. High blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol levels are two major risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
The foods at the center of the DASH diet are naturally low in sodium. So just by following the DASH diet, you’re likely to lower your intake of sodium. You can further reduce sodium by:
- Using sodium-free spices or flavorings instead of salt
- Not adding salt when cooking rice, pasta or hot cereal
- Choosing plain fresh, frozen or canned vegetables
- Choosing fresh or frozen skinless poultry, fish, and lean cuts of meat
- Reading food labels and choosing low-sodium or no-salt-added options
As you cut back on processed, high-sodium foods, you may notice that food tastes different. It may take time for your palate to adjust. But once it does, you may find you prefer the DASH way of eating.
According to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, the Mediterranean Diet is a primarily plant-based eating plan that includes daily intake of whole grains, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, beans and other legumes, nuts, herbs, and spices. Other foods like animal proteins are eaten in smaller quantities, with the preferred animal protein being fish and seafood. Although the pyramid shape suggests the proportion of foods to eat (e.g., eat more fruits and vegetables and less dairy foods), it does not specify portion sizes or specific amounts. It is up to the individual to decide exactly how much food to eat at each meal, as this will vary by physical activity and body size. There are additional points that make this eating plan unique:
- An emphasis on healthy fats. Olive oil is recommended as the primary added fat, replacing other oils and fats (butter, margarine). Other foods naturally containing healthful fats are highlighted, such as avocados, nuts, and oily fish like salmon and sardines; among these, walnuts and fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Choosing fish as the preferred animal protein at least twice weekly and other animal proteins of poultry, eggs, and dairy (cheese or yogurt) in smaller portions either daily or a few times a week. Red meat is limited to a few times per month.
- Choosing water as the main daily beverage, but allowing a moderate intake of wine with meals, about one to two glasses a day for men and one glass a day for women.
- Stressing daily physical activity through enjoyable activities.
“One of the more exciting things about this is that people who adhered even moderately to the MIND diet had a reduction in their risk for AD,” said Morris, a Rush professor, assistant provost for Community Research, and director of Nutrition and Nutritional Epidemiology.
My next steps
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Jessica brings a unique perspective to this leading epilepsy blog as she was diagnosed with epilepsy as a teen. She also brings 20+ years experience in marketing.