The MIND diet encourages eating certain foods and avoiding others to help prevent or delay cognitive decline. It incorporates elements from other diets to promote healthy eating habits that may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
Cognitive impairment refers to difficulties with memory, learning, or thought processing. Although many people consider this to be a normal part of aging, it is not inevitable. It is therefore important to maintain brain health, which may involve eating a nutritious and balanced diet. The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, and it has shown promise in preventing cognitive decline. With a few simple dietary changes, people on this diet can take steps to maintain brain health and help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Here’s the MIND diet in detail, including foods to include and avoid, and a sample meal plan for you.
Definition of the MIND diet
The MIND diet uses aspects of the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet. Previous research has suggested that these diets may help preserve cognitive function. That’s why researcher, Martha Clare Morris, Professor of Epidemiology, Director of the Section of Nutrition and Nutritional Epidemiology in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Chicago combined these diets to create the MIND (Mediterranean- DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay).
The traditional Mediterranean diet consists mainly of cereals, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and fish. It may also include small amounts of meat, eggs, dairy products and alcohol. The DASH diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. You can also eat whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts, but should limit your intake of saturated fats, red meat and sugars. The MIND diet combines these dietary patterns by encouraging the consumption of many plant foods, in addition to fish and poultry, while trying to avoid saturated fats and added sugars. What sets this diet apart is its focus on daily and weekly recommendations for specific foods and food groups.
For example, it recommends two or more servings of vegetables per day, but specifies that at least one serving should consist of leafy green vegetables. Evidence suggests that the MIND diet may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by around 53% or 35%, depending on whether the person follows the diet strictly or moderately well. Although more research is needed to confirm these results, this diet may be a promising strategy to help prevent or delay cognitive decline. However, it is advisable to discuss any change in diet with a doctor before implementing it.
Purpose of the MIND diet
The goal of the MIND diet is to help improve brain function and contribute to cognitive resilience in older adults. There is evidence that factors related to a healthy lifestyle, such as a quality diet, can have beneficial effects on the brain. As such, following this diet may help slow cognitive decline and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. For example, a 2022 study notes that better adherence to the MIND diet is associated with a lower risk of dementia.
Similarly, a 2021 study reports that the MIND diet may improve cognitive function scores in high-risk groups. Along with exercise and cognitive training programs, these diets could be a useful tool against dementia. Additionally, other evidence shows a potential link between closely following the MIND diet and slowing cognitive decline after stroke.
Evidence suggests that the MIND diet may provide multiple benefits for a range of people. In addition to helping reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, it can help prevent cardiovascular disease and even some forms of cancer.
Many factors can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. While people can’t change some risk factors, like age and genetics, they can control others, including exercise, cognitive training, and diet. The authors of a 2019 review note that certain diets, such as the MIND diet, may help protect the brain through their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Similarly, the Mediterranean and DASH diets show promise for promoting cardiovascular health. Because the MIND diet incorporates elements of both of these diets, it is likely beneficial for heart health as well.
A 2021 study also identified a link between following the MIND diet and a lower risk of developing breast cancer. However, more research is needed to explore the links between diet and cancer.
Current data do not associate the MIND diet with specific risks. However, people are advised to discuss the diet with a medical professional to determine if it is right for them. Some of the foods recommended on the MIND diet may not be suitable for everyone, due to allergies, intolerances or food preferences. In these cases, a person may wish to discuss other possible diets with a doctor or dietician.
Foods to include
The trusted source for the MIND diet lists 15 food components to eat or avoid. The 10 types of foods that people on the MIND diet can eat are:
– green leafy vegetables
– all other vegetables
– olive oil
– Whole grains
There are also recommendations for how often people on the MIND diet should consume the foods above. For example, in addition to daily vegetables, a person should aim to consume 3 or more servings of minimally processed whole grains per day and 2 or more servings of berries per week.
Foods to Avoid
The MIND diet also specifies the types of foods to avoid. Since it is not always possible to completely avoid these foods, efforts should be made to limit them as much as possible.
People should strive to include less:
– a tablespoon of butter or margarine per day
– one portion of cheese per week
– 4 servings of red meat per week
– one portion of fast food or fried food per week, on average
– 5 servings of pastries and sweets per week
sample meal plan
Currently, there are no specific guidelines for following the MIND diet. Rather, the goal is to eat more of the 10 recommended foods and less of the other five that are not as nutritious. So, a meal plan might include the following:
Oatmeal is a convenient option for breakfast. A bowl of oatmeal meets the MIND diet requirement for a whole grain, and people can add toppings such as fresh blueberries and nuts to add vitamins and minerals.
For lunch, a suitable option is a pasta salad that you can make ahead of time. She can start with a whole wheat pasta base and add additional ingredients, such as spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers and chickpeas. She can then drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and add a pinch of salt and pepper to complete the meal.
Nuts can be a handy snack to eat on the go. Another solution is to eat a piece of wholemeal bread covered with a thin layer of nut butter.
For a substantial and nutritious dinner, you can cook a lean chicken breast with fresh herbs, then coat it with a squeeze of fresh lemon. They can serve it with a side of quinoa and kale.
The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. It encourages the consumption of certain foods, such as whole grains, vegetables and poultry, while limiting other foods, such as those high in saturated fat and added sugars. This flexible eating pattern focuses on daily and weekly recommendations for specific foods and food groups.
Although more research is still needed, there is some evidence to suggest that the MIND diet is associated with lower rates of cognitive decline, which may help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. This diet may complement other healthy lifestyle factors, such as exercise and cognitive training, to help protect brain health.
Cherian, L., et al. (2019). Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet slows cognitive decline after stroke.
DASH eating plan. (2021).
de Crom, TOE, et al. (2022). MIND diet and the risk of dementia: A population-based study.
Dhana, K., et al. (2021). MIND diet, common brain pathologies, and cognition in community-dwelling older adults.
Klimova, B., et al. (2020). The effect of healthy diet on cognitive performance among healthy seniors — A mini review.
Marcason, W. (2015). What are the components to the MIND diet? (2015).
McGrattan, AM, et al. (2019). Diet and inflammation in cognitive aging and Alzheimer’s disease.
Morris, MC, et al. (2015). MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.