The minute the temperature drops here in New England, I start craving winter squash. From acorn and delicata to honeynut and butternut, not a week goes by without some kind of winter squash making its way to my dinner table.
This recipe for Turkey Bolognese Stuffed Acorn Squash is filled with a mixture of onion, garlic, mushrooms, fresh thyme, dried cranberries, ground turkey, and pasta sauce. It’s brimming with cozy winter flavors, and most of the ingredients in this dish are part of the MIND Diet, a style of eating that’s near and dear to my heart … and my brain.
I partnered with NeuroReserve to create this recipe and post. All opinions are my own.
What is the MIND Diet:
MIND is an acronym for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. The MIND Diet is a blend of two popular diets: the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Together, they deliver a powerful one-two punch against Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and cognitive decline. Research shows that moderate to strict adherence to the MIND Diet can reduce AD risk by 35% to 53% respectively and slow the rate of brain aging.
The MIND Diet includes foods rich in brain-supporting nutrients like vitamin E, antioxidants, and omega-3s. Eating this way every day is like the Fountain of Youth for your brain. While it’s not a magic bullet—there’s no such thing!—the MIND Diet can play a positive role in reducing the overall risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Top-10 MIND Food Groups:
1. Leafy Greens: Aim for one serving of kale, spinach, Swiss chard, or lettuce each day
2. Other Vegetables: Round out veggie consumption with at least one serving of colorful bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, or winter squash each day
3. Berries: Aim for two or more servings of blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries a week
4. Nuts: Grab a handful of walnuts, pistachios, almonds, or pecans at least five times a week, and nix heavily processed snacks like chips and pastries
5. Olive oil: When cooking, use extra virgin olive oil most of the time
6. Whole grains: Add three, half-cup servings of whole grains to your daily diet, including brown or black rice, quinoa, oats, and farro
7. Fish: Eat your favorite fish—salmon, tuna, cod, shrimp—once a week … or more
8. Beans: Add at least three, half-cup servings of black beans, chickpeas, lentils, edamame, or other bean to your weekly diet.
9. Poultry: Include up to four servings of chicken and turkey in your diet each week, and remember to stick to healthy preparation methods like baking and stir frying
10. Wine: Light to moderate consumption may be beneficial to brain health, so the occasional glass of wine can be part of the MIND Diet. That said, there’s no reason to start drinking wine or alcohol if you don’t currently consume it
The MIND Diet also includes foods to limit: Butter and margarine; cheese; red meat; fried food; pastries and sweets.
My recipe for Turkey Bolognese Stuffed Acorn Squash is a MIND Diet lovers dream come true. It’s made with acorn squash, which contains nutrients like magnesium and carotenoids plus other MIND Diet foods including turkey, pasta sauce (tomatoes!), mushrooms, onion, and garlic.
- One cup of acorn squash contains 25% of the DV for magnesium, which plays a role in normal brain development, memory and learning.
- Acorn squash (like carrots) is rich in carotenoids, plant pigments with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits that promote brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
Brain Health is Personal:
Brain health is something I think about every day. My dad suffers from Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), a brain disease that affects over one million Americans. It’s a slow and progressive condition that impacts thinking, movement, behavior, and mood. My dad turned 90 this past November, and we’re blessed that he still lives at home with my mom. It’s been a horrible ordeal, and I’m so sad to see my dad this way. He was a kind, generous, and funny guy who loved tinkering around his garden and collecting antique cars. He was always busy. And even though he’s entering the final stages of the disease, every now and then, we still get a glimpse of that silly twinkle in his eye.
I love this photo from the early 1970s when our young family took a trip to Mohonk Mountain House in upstate New York. How about those red pants! As you can see, my dad was pretty fit, but his diet was typically “all American.” Meat and potatoes were his preference, and he was never a big fan of vegetables. My style of eating is more in line with the food groups featured prominently on the MIND Diet. And over these past years as I’ve watched my dad struggle with LBD, I’ve made a conscious effort to add more vegetables to our plates, and I’ve also increased my consumption of poultry.
Supplements Play a Role:
Besides embracing the MIND Diet for myself and my family, I’ve added a dietary supplement called RELEVATE to my daily brain-health regime. Created by scientists and researchers at NeuroReserve, RELEVATE is designed with brain nutrition in mind. Based on protective dietary patterns that reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disease and maintain cognition, the RELEVATE formulation includes key nutrients like vitamins B12, D3, and E, magnesium, lutein and zeaxanthin (both carotenoids), EPA and DHA omega-3s, and niacin.
RELEVATE + the MIND Diet = my one-stop-shop for brain-healthy nutrients.
I partnered with NeuroReserve this year to create family-pleasing recipes for their Brain Table blog including this one for stuffed acorn squash and two other easy recipes for Easy Chicken, Bean, and Spinach Enchilada Casserole and Crispy Salmon Sticks with Zesty Avocado Sauce.
While I can’t prove to you that eating a MIND style diet or taking a daily supplement for my brain will prevent a disease like Lewy Body Dementia or Alzheimer’s, based on a growing body of international research, I’m doing everything I can to reduce my risk and support the health of my brain. Adopting a healthy lifestyle gives me peace of mind.
- 2 medium acorn squash
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil plus 1 tablespoon, divided
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 1 small onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
- 4 ounces mushrooms, roughly chopped, about 1½ cups
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 pound lean ground turkey or chicken
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed plus more for garnish
- ¼ cup dried cranberries
- 1¼ - 1½ cups pasta sauce
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray.
- Carefully cut and remove the top and bottom ends of the squash. Slice in half down the middle so the squash halves look like a flower, and scoop out the seeds. (Another way to slice the squash is to cut it in half lengthwise, from stem to tip.)
- Brush the insides of the hollowed out squash with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil, and season with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Place, hollowed side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake until tender, 35 to 40 minutes.
- While the squash is in the oven, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over low heat. Add the onion, mushrooms, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are tender, about 7 minutes. Add the turkey and thyme leaves, raise the heat to medium high, and cook, breaking up the large pieces, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the pasta sauce and dried cranberries, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir until warmed through, about 1 minute.
- Remove the cooked squash from the oven. Fill each squash "bowl" evenly with the turkey mixture. Top each with additional thyme leaves as desired.
Let me know how your family is eating for brain health. I’d love to hear from you.