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7 MIND Diet Holiday Tips

Get a head start on a healthier New Year

'Tis the season when cheese, butter and pastries are everywhere. But the holidays can be a great time to jump-start your New Year's resolutions with the MIND diet.

The MIND diet blends two heart-healthy diets — DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and Mediterranean — but focuses on foods that aid in brain health. The MIND diet is rich in vegetables, berries, whole grains, fish, olive oil and nuts but low in red meat, cheese, pastries and sweets.

Research conducted by nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, PhD, and colleagues at Rush University Medical Center shows that those who strictly followed the MIND diet lowered their risk of Alzheimer's disease by as much as 53 percent and delayed cognitive decline by 7.5 years. Even those who followed the guidelines only moderately well lowered their Alzheimer's risk by 35 percent.

"MIND is about changing your lifestyle, not following a fad diet," says Jennifer Ventrelle, MS, RD, CPT, lead dietitian for the MIND Diet Intervention to Prevent Alzheimer's Disease at Rush. "Because it is a set of guidelines instead of strict rules, the MIND diet allows for special days."

Here, Ventrelle offers seven holiday tips based on MIND diet principles:

1. Keep actual holidays special ...

"I'm a big proponent of saying the actual holidays should be special, and on those days — like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukkah or New Year's Eve — you do not need to make substitutions," Ventrelle says. "Go ahead and eat some of your family's traditional foods."

2. ... but think ahead.

Because the MIND diet calls for limiting— but not eliminating — certain foods, spend your weekly allotments of foods to avoid, like red meat and pastries, on the specific holiday, she says.

For instance, if your brother-in-law always makes prime rib on Christmas day, count that as one of your three portions of red meat for the week. However, that might mean avoiding roast beef sandwiches at the office luncheon the week before.

3. Pace yourself.

If you are at a holiday party with a huge spread, take the time to walk through the entire buffet line without a plate, then weigh your options, Ventrelle suggests.

"Because the MIND diet calls for daily servings of vegetables, make a plate with salad and veggies first," she adds. "Fill up a bit on that before you go for the casserole or rolls. And pace yourself. It takes your brain about 20 minutes to realize you've eaten."

4. Be the host.

As the host of a holiday gathering, you can make sure there are options that adhere to MIND diet guidelines.

  • Include appetizers like hummus, which can count for weekly bean portions.
  • Add a bowl of deeply-colored berries — like blueberries — at the dessert table. Dark berries are chock full of antioxidants, fiber and vitimans.
  • Since poultry is encouraged twice a week, roast a turkey or game hen as the main course. But instead of basting the bird in butter, brush it with extra-virgin olive oil, a MIND diet staple.
  • Serve fish, like salmon, as either an appetizer or entree. Fish is on the MIND menu at least once a week.

Also, assign guests specific MIND-ful dishes, like a spinach salad with walnuts, dried cranberries and a balsamic and olive oil dressing.

The "eat what you want, it's a holiday" mindset doesn't have to extend to the office holiday party or the neighbor's gathering. Not every party is an actual holiday.

5. Swap things out.

The "eat what you want, it's a holiday" mindset doesn't have to extend to the office holiday party or the neighbor's gathering. "Remember, not every party is an actual holiday," Ventrelle says.

On those less special occasions, pick the foods the MIND diet encourages over the foods to avoid.

For instance, at the office holiday party, opt for a glass of wine — allowed on the MIND diet — over spiked eggnog. And, as the appetizer plates are passed, choose shrimp cocktail or salmon croquettes — fulfilling the weekly fish requirement — over that cheesy mini quiche. 

6. Banish leftovers

With too many leftovers around, foods to avoid can become too available and easy to eat, Ventrelle says. 

If you are the host, invest in inexpensive plastic containers to fill with leftovers like stuffing and buttery mashed potatoes to share with your guests as they leave. Or bring the leftover pastries into the office for your colleagues, she adds. "It is important that they are not in your house," she adds.

As a guest, control what ends up at your house. "When I go to my mother's for a holiday and she tries to send me home with leftovers, I try to politely say, 'no thanks.' Or I bring my own containers so I can control what and how much comes home," Ventrelle says. 

7. Be kind to yourself

Remember, it's hard to change your behavior. Allow yourself to ease into the MIND lifestyle as you ring in 2017.

"All of this self-control is easier said than done, so be patient. Don't beat yourself up if you have a bad day," Ventrelle says. "When your reprimand yourself, that can make you want to give up. Making small changes goes a long way toward helping you achieve your goal."

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