The MIND Diet Explained: Explore the MIND Diet's science-backed approach to nourishing your brain and maintaining cognitive wellness.

What Is the MIND Diet and Does It Help Your Brain?

Can The MIND Diet Improve Brain Health?

We watch what we eat to lose weight, boost heart health, and control blood sugar. But how often do we think about eating right for our brains?

It’s said that 15 to 20 percent of older people will experience a significant decline in their standard cognitive abilities (reasoning and memory). Known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI), for most people this condition will not affect their ability to perform everyday tasks. Still, for many, the most feared effects of aging are dementia and cognitive decline.

To keep the brain functioning at its best, the MIND diet is a popular eating plan. It’s not a weight-loss plan, but it is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well as slower cognitive decline.

You might be hearing more about the MIND diet of late. A recent study has added to the evidence that the diet, which includes a variety of brain-friendly foods, may help protect against Alzheimer's disease.

Eating certain foods can help improve brain health and preserve brain function. There's mounting scientific evidence that shows sticking to a method called the MIND diet can make a difference in your risk of cognitive decline and dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

The MIND Diet, which stands for "Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay," is a dietary plan that combines elements of two well-known diets: the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet. The MIND Diet was developed specifically to promote brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease.

Also see: 7 Foods That Are High in Vitamin D

What is the MIND Diet?

MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.

Developed by nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, ScD, the MIND diet takes two popular and proven eating plans (DASH and the Mediterranean), and focuses on the foods from each that positively affect brain health.

Does the MIND Diet Work?

The National Institute on Aging funded a study on the MIND diet, and in 2015 results were published stating that the MIND diet lowered Alzheimer’s risk by approximately 35 percent for those following it moderately well. Those following it rigorously lowered their risk by up to 53 percent.

Long-term impacts of the diet warrant further studies, but it was noted that the MIND diet is superior to both the Mediterranean and DASH diets for preventing cognitive decline.

Also see: 9 Best (and Worst) Foods for High Blood Pressure

10 Foods to Support Brain Health

Following a food plan that is based on science-based dietary recommendations (such as the MIND diet) is one of the best ways to keep the brain functioning at its most optimal level.

Dr. Morris found through her studies that participants had lower risks of Alzheimer’s disease and slower rates of cognitive decline when the following foods and nutrients were present in their diets:

Here are the 10 foods the MIND diet encourages.

  • Green, leafy vegetables: Aim for six or more servings per week. This includes kale, spinach, cooked greens, and salads.
  • All other vegetables: Try to eat another vegetable in addition to the green leafy vegetables at least once per day. It’s best to choose non-starchy vegetables because they provide a lot of nutrients for a low number of calories.
  • Berries: Eat berries at least twice per week. Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries all have antioxidant benefits
  • Nuts: Try to get five or more servings of nuts each week. The creators of the MIND diet don’t specify what kind of nuts to consume, but it is probably best to vary the type of nuts you eat to obtain a variety of nutrients.
  • Olive oil: Use olive oil as your main cooking oil. Check out this article for information about the safety of cooking with olive oil.
  • Whole grains: Aim for at least three servings daily. Choose whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and 100% whole wheat bread.
  • Fish: Eat fish at least once per week. It is best to choose fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and mackerel for their high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Beans: Include beans in at least four meals per week. This category includes all beans, lentils, and soybeans.
  • Poultry: Try to eat chicken or turkey at least twice per week. Note that fried chicken is not encouraged on the MIND diet.
  • Wine: Aim for no more than one glass daily. Both red and white wine may benefit your brain. While there has been much interest in the compound resveratrol, which is found in red wine, recent research has questioned whether it has clear benefits in humans.

If you’re unable to consume the target number of servings, don’t quit the MIND diet altogether. Research has shown that following the MIND diet even to a moderate degree is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment.

Also see: 9 Nutrients You Need More of As You Get Older

5 foods to avoid on the MIND diet

The MIND diet recommends limiting the following five foods

  • Butter and margarine: Try to eat less than 1 tablespoon (about 14 grams) daily. Instead, try using olive oil as your primary cooking fat and dipping your bread in olive oil with herbs.
  • Cheese: The MIND diet recommends eating cheese less than once per week.
  • Red meat: Aim for no more than three servings per week. This category includes all beef, pork, lamb, and products made from these meats.
  • Fried food: The MIND diet highly discourages fried food, especially the kind from fast-food restaurants. Limit your consumption to less than once per week.
  • Pastries and sweets: This includes most of the processed snack foods and desserts you may think of — ice cream, cookies, brownies, snack cakes, doughnuts, candy, and more. Try to limit these to no more than four times per week.

Researchers encourage limiting your consumption of these foods because they contain saturated fats.

Remember, this blog provides general information and should not replace professional medical advice. Before you start the MIND diet or any other diet, talk to your doctor and ask if it’s the right fit for your health. If you’re not sure how to get started, ask a licensed nutritionist or a dietitian. They may help you come with up a meal plan that works best for you.

It's always best to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice regarding your nutritional needs. If you are experiencing any health issues, please call or visit our Closest Emergency Care for medical help. We have board-certified physicians, nurses and staff to help you recover and give appropriate treatment and medical advice.

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