Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDCES, review medical cases.
Most diets have weight loss as their main objective, particularly fad detoxes and cleanses. However, not everyone who is dieting wants to lose weight. Different diets can produce various outcomes. And you can think about attempting the MIND diet, which has been associated with shorter cognitive decline, if you want to enhance the health of your brain and stave off the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease, the most prevalent type of dementia that affects 6.5 million Americans, is a debilitating neurological condition that causes memory loss and confusion. (1) As of 2021, it is the sixth-most common cause of death in the US. (The start of the COVID-19 pandemic cost it its position as sixth.) (1)
There is a lot of data to suggest the link between this dietary approach and preventing Alzheimer’s disease, despite the fact that there is no research connecting the MIND diet with the illness’s reversal.
How does the MIND diet plan incorporate the DASH and Mediterranean diets, and what is the MIND diet plan?
According to Becky Kerkenbush, RD, a clinical dietitian with Wisconsin’s Watertown Regional Medical Center, the Mediterranean-DASH intervention for the neurodegenerative delay, or MIND, is a “hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, and research suggests it may reduce the risk of developing dementia or slow the decline in brain health.”
In a 2015 study, the nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, ScD, and her colleagues at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago cited earlier research on the relationship between diet and cognitive decline before incorporating ideas from the DASH and Mediterranean diets, two plant-based diets, to create a meal plan that had positive effects on the brain. (2) So, the MIND diet was created.
All three diets share certain characteristics, but only the MIND diet promotes the consumption of foods that have been shown to improve cognitive health.
How Exactly Does the MIND Diet Improve Brain Health?
The MIND diet emphasizes eating a lot of plant-based meals and avoiding foods high in saturated fat and animal products. It’s interesting that this diet explicitly encourages a higher consumption of berries and leafy green vegetables. The focus is on plants.
Consuming foods high in flavonoids may help the brain. A 2012 study found that blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries may delay cognitive aging in women by up to 2.5 years. (3) There is a connection between berry-based supplements and cognitive function, according to a 2022 assessment of 11 studies.
Similar to this, a 2018 study found a connection between eating leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, and collard greens and decelerating aging-related cognitive deterioration. This may be because, according to a 2010 study, consuming leafy greens is related to reduced oxidative stress and inflammation, two characteristics linked to Alzheimer’s disease. (4) Berry and leafy greens are both high in antioxidants and can help lessen oxidative stress and inflammation.
When the body is unable to combat dangerous chemicals known as free radicals due to insufficient antioxidant defenses, oxidative stress arises. This stress results in cell damage throughout the body, including the brain, and has been linked to a number of illnesses, including cancer and Alzheimer’s.
The Best and Worst Foods for the MIND Diet
You should choose to eat and stay away from the following meals in order to help your cognition:
Suitable Meals for the MIND Diet
- Minimum of six servings per week of green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, collard greens, and lettuce).
- A minimum of five servings of nuts (almonds, cashews, and pistachios) every week
- At least two servings of berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries) per week are recommended.
- Black, pinto, and kidney beans should be consumed at least three times each week.
- Eat at least three servings of whole grains every day, such as quinoa, oats, brown rice, whole-
- wheat pasta, and bread.(5)
- At least one serving of fish (trout, salmon, and tuna) every week
- Chicken and turkey: at least twice a week
- Using olive oil as the main oil
- No more than one glass of wine per day.
Limitations on Foods for the MIND Diet
- No more than four portions of red meat (steak, ground beef, hog, and lamb) each week.
- Using no more than 1 tablespoon each day of butter and margarine
- No more than one serving of cheese (brie, mozzarella, or cheddar) per week.
- No more than five servings of sweets (cakes, brownies, and ice cream) per week.
- No more than one fried or fast food serving per week (french fries, chicken nuggets, onion rings, fried chicken, hamburgers).
Sample Meal Plan for the MIND Diet for 7 Days
An example of what one week of the MIND Diet can look like is shown below:
- Breakfast smoothie with banana and strawberries.
- Salad Caesar for lunch.
- Dinner: ground turkey and quinoa are used to make chili.
- Breakfast A slice of toast and a veggie frittata.
- Lunch: a whole-wheat tuna salad sandwich.
- Dinner Roasted broccoli with pecan-crusted chicken.
- Breakfast would be blueberry-walnut pancakes.
- Lunch sandwich made with grilled chicken, hummus, and celery on whole-wheat bread.
- Dinner is roasted turkey served with a whole-wheat dinner roll and a side of cabbage salad.
- Breakfast: 15 almonds, raspberries, and Greek yogurt
- Lunch: a salad of kale and spinach with carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, chickpeas, and brown rice.
- Dinner: roasted broccoli, whole-wheat pasta with chicken and marinara sauce, and a side salad.
- Breakfast on day five is oatmeal with blueberries and slivered almonds.
- Lunch: half a pita, grilled chicken, chickpeas, feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olive oil.
- Dinner: salmon baked in the oven with quinoa, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts that have been cooked in olive oil.
- Breakfast on day six: a whole-wheat bagel sandwich with a single fried egg and blueberries on the side.
- Lunch is a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread with a side of baby carrots, lettuce, a tomato slice, and hummus.
- Dinner: stir-fried quinoa with beans, veggies, and olive oil.
- Whole-wheat bread with scrambled eggs and avocado slices
- Lunch: a small whole-grain roll and a spinach salad with strawberries, chickpeas, and slivered almonds.
- Dinner: grilled salmon, 1/3 cup brown rice, and sautéed spinach.
What Sets the MIND Diet Apart from Other Dietary Schemes?
Regular physical activity may also help prevent the cognitive loss, even though the MIND diet does not specifically call for it, since it enhances blood flow to the brain and helps provide brain cells with nutrients. According to the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, regular exercise can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50%. (6) Therefore, adding exercise to the MIND diet could significantly reduce the risk of memory loss.
The MIND diet differs from other well-known programs in that it does not involve calorie counting or the omission of any food groups. According to Hoboken, New Jersey-based nutritionist and Culina Health cofounder Vanessa Rissetto, RD, the MIND diet is less restrictive than the paleo diet and ketogenic (or keto) diet. Both of these widely adopted eating plans limit the intake of entire grains, and paleo excludes dairy as well. On the other hand, the MIND diet isn’t extremely rigorous and places a focus on increasing the intake of foods that are good for the brain. As a result, you can still occasionally indulge in your favorite meats, desserts, and wines.
You don’t have to be old or have a family history of the disease to benefit from this diet, but keep in mind that it is especially helpful to people who have a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The MIND diet has no harmful side effects and promotes a generally healthy eating pattern, according to Kerkenbush.
This diet is generally easy to follow, whether you’re cooking at home or eating out because it is plant-based and includes a wide variety of foods. However, because this diet places a greater emphasis on berries and nuts—which can be more expensive than some packaged, less-healthy snacks—it might result in a slightly higher grocery bill.
Dr. Morris suggested in a blog post that you periodically consume frozen berries and utilize canned beans, which can be equally satisfying and delicious but less expensive. Additionally, you can save money on nuts by looking for bulk discounts online.
You Should Be Aware of the MIND Diet’s Drawbacks and Advantages
The possibility of greatly lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease is the clearest and most promising advantage of the MIND diet.
The 2015 “MIND Diet Study” at Rush University in Chicago examined the incidences of Alzheimer’s disease among 923 participants who were already closely adhering to the MIND, DASH, and Mediterranean diets (based on their questionnaire responses) over a five-year period in order to establish a link between the MIND diet and this lower risk.
According to the study, the MIND diet significantly reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 53%.
Another intriguing finding is that you might not need to adhere to the diet strictly in order to reap its cognitive-enhancing advantages. According to the scientists, even individuals who somewhat adhere to the diet may have a 35% decrease in risk for the illness. However, there is a benefit to closely observing it: According to a 2015 study, this is equivalent to having 7.5 years of cognitive youth when compared to people who don’t adhere to the diet strictly. (7)
The MIND diet may lower the risk of Parkinson’s disease in addition to lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. A 2018 study discovered that this eating pattern reduced the risk and slowed the disease’s progression in older persons. (8)
A 2022 study that examined diet information from over 8,000 people over a 20-year period also discovered a link between high adherence to the MIND diet and a lower risk of dementia. In some instances, though, the association diminished as the study progressed.
The researchers came to the conclusion that this might be partially due to reverse causality, meaning that poor adherence to the MIND diet may be contributing to the onset of dementia rather than careful adherence to the diet avoiding dementia. The researchers warned that eating habits can change as dementia worsens and urged more research to clarify how the MIND diet affects dementia risk.
Nevertheless, there are numerous health advantages you may enjoy unrelated to the risk of dementia because this diet is a fusion of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.
The DASH diet has been associated with decreases in hypertension, which lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke. (9) Along with U.S. News & World Report, which annually ranks the top diets, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has also endorsed the heart health plan. (10,11)
Dietitians also frequently recommend the Mediterranean diet, and with good reason—a 2015 study connected it to lower blood pressure, a lower risk of heart disease, and higher insulin sensitivity. (12) This makes it advantageous for anyone managing prediabetes, or diabetes, or who is at risk for heart disease.
The MIND diet’s sole recognized drawback (if you can even call it that) is that it demands perseverance, effort, and careful meal planning to make sure you’re getting the correct number of food portions in accordance with the diet’s recommendations.
Create an accountability system and schedule your meals for the entire week, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner, to help you stay focused on your objective. Meals that require more work can be partially prepared in advance. Precook your rice and beans; cut up your fruit for smoothies and place in individual freezer bags; and precut and store your vegetables in plastic bowls.
Should You Try the MIND Diet for Brain Benefits or Weight Loss?
The MIND diet may not be for weight loss, which makes it different from other diets. But if you want to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and safeguard your brain, this diet will work well.
Planning ahead and having the willpower to stick to this diet are required. But if you stray off the path a little, don’t give up. To reap the health benefits of a diet, you don’t have to adhere to it strictly.