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Improve Your Brain and Body Health: The MIND Diet

May 2023

Karen Ensle EdD, RDN, FAND, CFCS
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Have you heard of The MIND diet? This eating pattern is designed to prevent dementia and loss of brain function as you age. The MIND diet combines the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet to create a dietary pattern that focuses specifically on brain health. "MIND" stands for "Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay." The MIND diet aims to reduce dementia and the decline in brain health that often occurs as people get older. This diet contains foods rich in certain vitamins, carotenoids, and flavonoids that are believed to protect the brain by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. The MIND diet combines aspects of these two very popular diets, the Mediterranean diet, and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.

The MIND diet is aimed at reducing the risk of dementia and the decline in brain health that people often experience as they age. Food groups recommended in the MIND diet are a rich source of fiber and packed with several dietary nutrients that have been found to boost brain health. They include Vitamin E, Folate, Omega-3 fatty acids, Carotenoids, and Flavonoids. Research shows that the MIND diet can improve brain health and lower your risk of developing conditions like Alzheimer's disease, dementia, and other forms of age-related cognitive decline. In fact, studies show that eating certain foods and avoiding unhealthy ones can slow brain aging by 7.5 years. Currently, Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and it's estimated to affect over 5 million Americans. That number is projected to jump to more than 7 million by 2025.

One study that looked at 1,300 older adults who followed the MIND diet found that those who followed it strictly, were reducing their chances of developing Alzheimer's by 53%. Those who moderately followed it still saw their risk drop by 35%.

Whether you have a family history of Alzheimer's disease or other cognitive problems, the MIND diet is a healthy eating plan that has shown promising results for overall brain health. While there needs to be more research on the overall benefits of the MIND diet, evidence so far indicates it's a good diet strategy for long-term health. It's relatively easy to follow even if you're eating out. This is because the diet focuses on wholesome foods, and you don't have to track your daily calorie intake. 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 registered nutritionist or a dietitian. They may help you to come up with a meal plan that fits your lifestyle and food preferences. Here are the 10 foods the MIND diet encourages:

  1. Green, leafy vegetables: Aim for six or more servings per week. This includes kale, spinach, cooked greens, and salads.
  2. 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. Choose other yellow, orange, red and green types.
  3. Berries: Eat berries at least twice per week. Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries all have antioxidant benefits.
  4. 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.
  5. Olive oil: Use olive oil as your main cooking oil.
  6. 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.
  7. Fish: Eat fish at least once per week. More is better. It is best to choose fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and mackerel for their high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
  8. Beans: Include beans in at least four meals per week. This category includes all beans, lentils, and soybeans.
  9. Poultry: Try to eat chicken or turkey at least twice per week. Note that fried chicken or other fried foods are not encouraged on the MIND diet.
  10. 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.

When you're following the diet, you can eat more than just these 10 foods. However, the more you stick to the diet, the better your results may be. According to research, eating more of the 10 recommended foods and less of the foods that the diet recommends avoiding has been associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease and better brain function over time.

The unhealthy items, which are higher in saturated and trans-fat, include:

Take small steps to include healthy foods, especially vegetables as you plan your daily meals and snacks. Your overall health is dependent on your mindful daily food choices. The MIND, Mediterranean and DASH diets are all healthful for families and individuals to follow.