What is the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) Diet? How Does it Work?

The MIND diet ranks among the top heart-healthy diets and is one of the easiest to follow. Its goal: to lower the risk of dementia and improve cognitive health.

In their quest to identify the best dietary patterns for brain health, research scientists developed the MIND diet based on years of research on what foods and nutrients have good, and bad, effects on brain function.

The MIND diet is a hybrid of two proven diets with the most clinically significant data: the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet to reduce the risk of dementia and improve cognitive health.

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Would you like to know why the MIND diet beats peanut butter on pancakes? Because it ranks among the top heart-healthy diets and is one of the easiest to follow. And you can still indulge in peanut butter on pancakes.
With the MIND diet you can still indulge in a small portion of peanut butter on pancakes.

We are now beginning to understand the high toll that chronic inflammation plays in the human body and the link between different chronic diseases including depression, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and others.

Let’s promote a healthy mind and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s with the MIND diet.

“Your genes are not your destiny”. You can lower your risk of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s by using food as medicine.

What is the MIND diet?

The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.

  • The DASH diet (which stands for “dietary approaches to stop hypertension”) is similar to the Mediterranean diet and it focuses on eating plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, while being low in red meat, sweets and unhealthy fats. It also includes eating some fish, poultry, legumes, nuts and seeds.
  • The Mediterranean diet incorporates plenty of whole plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats (such as nuts and olive oil), herbs, beans as well as moderate amounts of poultry, eggs and seafood. You can include a little bit of red wine as well. Additionally, processed foods should be avoided as much as possible.

The MIND diet has 15 dietary components. Ten of them are brain-healthy foods that you should eat and five are not and you should either avoid or limit their consumption.

Spinach and eggs frittata, the crustless quiche. Find out more about the MIND diet for better brain health.
Spinach and eggs frittata, the crustless quiche.

This dietary pattern encourages you to consume vegetables, berries, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, fish, beans, poultry and, yes, a daily glass of wine.

What makes the MIND diet different from the Mediterranean and the DASH eating patterns, is that it focuses on daily and weekly recommendations for specific foods and food groups.

So far, research indicates that high adherence to all three diets may reduce Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) risk and moderate adherence to the MIND diet may also decrease AD risk.

More research is currently being done to confirm that the MIND diet is able to reduce cognitive decline and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Stopping Hypertension: How much Sodium is too much Sodium?

High blood pressure is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day (that’s one teaspoon of salt!) and moving toward an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults.

However, you should discuss this with a physician to determine what is best for you. This number may vary in patients with other comorbidities, such as renal and cardiac disease.

Click here to learn more about high blood pressure and your brain health.

The MIND Diet: Let’s Eat Away at Cognitive Decline

To get the most benefits from the MIND diet, you need to eat one green leafy vegetable and one other veggie, 3 servings of whole grains, and a glass of wine every day. Make a meal out of fish once a week and poultry twice weekly, have beans every other day, snack on nuts and strawberries for dessert on most days.

You must limit the 5 foods considered as unhealthy by eating less than 1 teaspoon a day of butter, and less than a weekly serving of cheese, fast food or fried food, sweets and pastries.

Roasted chicken with carrots, onions, oregano, thyme and potatoes. There's nothing boring about this poultry dish. The MIND diet is one of the easiest to follow and will help you eat away at cognitive decline.
Roasted chicken with carrots, onions, oregano, thyme and potatoes. There’s nothing boring about this poultry dish.

10 dietary components of the MIND diet that are good to brain health

1. Green leafy vegetables: more than 6 servings per week

A serving of leafy green vegetables would be a cup of raw vegetables or ½ cup of cooked or cut-up raw vegetables. Of note, 1 cup of raw veggies is the equivalent to ½ cup of cut up raw or cooked veggies.

The MIND diet suggests these green leafy vegetables: kale, collards, spinach, cooked greens and lettuce/tossed salad.

2. Eat at least 1 serving a day of all other vegetables

The MIND diet encourages eating plenty of vegetables on a daily basis. They are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients that are essential for brain health.

Variety is key and the choices are many. They even include some starchy vegetables like potatoes and potato salad. But it’s always best to stick to green or red peppers, squash, cooked or raw carrots, broccoli, celery, peas or lima beans, tomatoes, string beans, beets, corn, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, or coleslaw.

3. Strawberries: More than twice a week 

The MIND diet encourages eating at least 2 servings of strawberries per week, which are rich in ellagic acid and flavonoids (a type of phytonutrient known for its antioxidant properties that has been shown to be beneficial to cognitive health)

A typical serving would be a medium fruit or ½ cup of chopped fruit. Fruits are also rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that promote brain heath.

The MIND diet encourages eating strawberries several times a week. Their phytonutrients have been shown to help keep memory and thinking abilities. Yes, chocolate is on the approved list!
Strawberries’ phytonutrients have been shown to help keep memory and thinking abilities. Yes, chocolate is on the approved list!

4. Eat more than 3 servings of whole grains every day

Choose from minimally processed whole grains, such as steel cut or rolled oats, quinoa, oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta or brown rice. A serving of whole grains is one slice of bread, or a half cup of cooked oatmeal, pasta or rice.

5. Fish (not fried) as a main dish: At least 1 serving per week 

Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which promotes brain health. Options include salmon, sardines, mackerel and tuna. Fish sticks are definitely not in this group.

6. Eat at least 3 servings of legumes per week

The MIND diet recommends including legumes in more than three meals in a week. Options include beans, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts, and soybeans.

7. Consume at least 5 servings of nuts weekly

Some of the beneficial properties of nuts are attributed to its high content of Vitamin E and antioxidants. Walnuts are also rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. And yes, you can have peanuts.

8. Poultry (not fried) as a main meal at least twice a week

The creators of the MIND diet suggest chicken or turkey sandwich, chicken or turkey as a main dish and never eat fried chicken at home or away from home.

9. Cook mostly with olive oil

Olive oil should be used as the primary oil to cook with.

10. You can enjoy some wine!

Moderate wine consumption. No more than one glass per day. Of course, the MIND diet is not a reason to start drinking just for the possible brain benefit.

The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. So far, research indicates that following any of all three diets strictly may reduce Alzheimer’s risk and moderately following the MIND diet may also decrease this risk.
So far, research indicates that following any of all three diets strictly may reduce Alzheimer’s risk and moderately following the MIND diet may also decrease this risk.

5 foods to limit or avoid while on the MIND Diet

Try to avoid highly processed foods, red meat, refined sugars, fried food, butter, margarine, cheese and excessive alcohol intake.

1. Pastries & Sweets: Less than 5 servings per week

Limit your pastry and sweet consumption to less than 5 per week. This includes biscuits, rolls, cakes, sweet pastries, donuts, cookies, brownies, pie, candy bars, other candy, ice cream, pudding, milkshakes and frappes. Example: a single Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut equals one serving.

2. Fried or Fast Foods: Less than once a week

Say no to fried food away from home. French fries and chicken nuggets may be tempting but keep them down to less than once weekly.

3. Eat red meat as a main dish less than 4 times per week

You can have meatloaf Monday but keep those red meats to no more than three times a week.

4. Eat cheese no more than once a week

You may have milk but the MIND diet discourages eating cheese more than once a week.

5. Butter and margarine: less than 1 tablespoon per day

You can still have some delicious meals, Try replacing butter with olive oil or topping your bread with a tapenade, a dish consisting of puréed or finely chopped olives, capers, and anchovies.

The Importance of Nutrition for Brain Health

It is estimated that more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s dementia, currently the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.

Despite arduous work from physicians and researchers around the world, there is no known medical treatment to cure or even slow down the progression of this devastating neurodegenerative disease.

Research has shown that one of the most powerful weapons to promote brain health and to prevent cognitive decline is nutrition.

How diet affects the brain is not completely understood at this time. However, there are several proposed mechanisms that may play an important role in cognitive function protection.

One is that nutrition may affect biological processes, including the reduction of chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.

Some researchers believe that the MIND diet might affect brain function directly, by possibly reducing the buildup of Amyloid plaques (which are abnormal proteins that accumulate in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease).

Additionally, it also affects brain health by its direct effects on many other disease processes that contribute to the development of neurological diseases and cognitive decline, including diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, metabolic syndrome and cerebrovascular disease.

As the father of Medicine once said:

“Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”

– Hippocrates


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Michelle Marrero Alfonso, MD, Fellow, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Dept. of Neurology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. As a Neurologist, she treats brain disorders such as Epilepsy, Stroke, Traumatic Brain Injury, Movement Disorders, Headaches and Cognitive disorders, among others. Dr. Marrero is currently completing a subspecialty program in Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She is also a Cognitive Neurology Fellow at the Evelyn F McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Miami. During the past year, she has studied and conducted research on memory disorders and the impact of neurological damage and disease upon behavior, memory, and cognition.

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