What Is the MIND Diet?
You’ve likely heard of the Mediterranean and DASH diets. But have you heard of the MIND diet? If not, you’re not alone.
The MIND diet stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It combines both the Mediterranean and DASH diets and may be the best of both worlds if you’re looking to improve your brain health and memory.
Created in 2015 by Martha Clare Morris, an epidemiologist at Rush University, the MIND diet combines aspects of both the Mediterranean and DASH diets, creating a diet showing promising results in preventing dementia and preserving brain function as we age.
Foods Included in the MIND Diet
The MIND diet is less like a diet and more like a guide. There is no calorie counting, no claims of weight loss, and no foods are off limits. Certain foods are recommended to be eaten daily or weekly, and some are encouraged to be eliminated or reduced from your diet.
Let’s look at the ten foods that are encouraged on the MIND diet:
1. Leafy Greens
Think spinach, kale, collard greens, and lettuce. Rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, it’s no wonder these are first on the list. Aim to include a serving of leafy greens daily or at least six times a week.
2. Other Vegetables
All other vegetables fall into this category, high in micronutrients and fiber and low in calories. Ideally, choose non-starchy vegetables such as peppers, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, or eggplant, and include them at least once a day.
While all types of fruit have benefits, MIND encourages berries specifically — blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Berries, and blueberries, in particular, have been shown to have protective effects on brain health. So try to eat berries twice a week.
4. Olive oil
Lower in saturated fat and higher in brain and heart-healthy fats, olive oil is encouraged as the primary source of cooking oil. Use it daily for all your cooking, baking, or salad dressing needs.
Regular fish consumption is part of the Mediterranean diet; recommended three to four times a week. However, the MIND diet suggests including it at least once a week. Choose fatty fish such as salmon, trout, tuna, or mackerel. These have higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Include chicken or turkey twice a week. Choose lower fat cooking methods such as roasting, baking, or grilling.
7. Whole grains
Rich in fiber, B vitamins, and vitamin E, whole grains are great for the brain and the gut. Whole grains include brown/wild rice, farro, millet, oats, bulgar, quinoa, or barley. Try to have these three times a day.
Legumes and lentils also fall into this group. Excellent source of plant-based protein and fiber, and low in fat. Include chickpeas, lentils, black beans, or white/red kidney beans at least three times a week.
Rich in healthy fats, and brain-boosting vitamins and minerals, try to include some nuts in your diet five days a week. The MIND diet does not specify which nuts to choose, so choose the ones you like, but try to include various types.
One glass of red or white wine a day is included in the MIND diet.
Here are five foods that are not encouraged in the MIND diet:
- Butter or margarine
- Red meat
- Fried foods
- Pastries and baked goods
It’s suggested these foods be consumed less than once a week due to their higher amounts of trans and saturated fats.
What Are the Benefits of the MIND Diet?
This diet is new, meaning the science and research are also new. Nothing is conclusive yet, but the studies and results are promising. Several benefits have been touted by following the MIND diet, including increasing life expectancy, reduced risk of breast cancer, slowing age-related cognitive decline, preserving memory, and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Early research suggests that abundant nutrients in the MIND diet may reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain, thus protecting it from cognitive decline and function loss.
One study showed a 53% reduction in the rate of Alzheimer’s in participants who followed the MIND diet strictly and a 35% reduction in those who followed it to a more moderate degree.
Who Should Follow the MIND Diet?
The MIND diet is non-restrictive and includes nutrient-dense, healthy foods, making it suitable for most people and may be beneficial to other chronic diseases.
It’s especially beneficial for those at higher risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s. The recommended foods are packed with nutrients shown to improve brain health, such as folate, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids, and flavonoids.
Despite being new to the diet world, the MIND diet is already showing promising results in protecting brain health and function as we age. Whether followed strictly or liberally, benefits are likely. Nutrient-dense foods are usually encouraged, but no foods are off-limits in this diet, making it suitable and sustainable for almost everyone.