Shedding pounds is the primary goal of most diet plans, especially when it comes to fad detoxes and cleanses. But not everyone on a diet is looking to lose weight. Different diets can achieve different results. And if you’re hoping to improve your brain health and prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, you may consider trying the MIND diet, which has been linked with slower cognitive decline.
Alzheimer’s disease — a progressive and devastating neurodegenerative disease causing memory loss and confusion — affects 5.8 million Americans and is the most common form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. (1) It’s the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, with 1 in every 3 seniors dying with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
Although there is no research linking the MIND diet with reversing Alzheimer’s, there’s plenty of evidence supporting the connection between this dietary approach and preventing the disease.
What Is the MIND Diet Plan, and How Does It Incorporate the DASH and Mediterranean Diets?
MIND (an acronym that stands for the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for the neurodegenerative delay) is a “hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet, and research suggests it may reduce the risk of developing dementia or slow the decline in brain health,” says Becky Kerkenbush, RD, a clinical dietitian with Watertown Regional Medical Center in Wisconsin.
In a study published in September 2015 in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, the nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, ScD, and her colleagues at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago referenced past studies on the dietary connection between food and cognitive decline and then borrowed concepts from the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet — two plant-based diets — to develop a meal plan with brain-boosting benefits. Thus the MIND diet was born.
Although there are similarities among all three diets, the MIND diet is the only one that encourages the consumption of foods that have been found to promote cognitive health.
How Does the MIND Diet Work to Boost Brain Health?
The MIND diet focuses on the intake of plant-based foods, and limiting the intake of animal products and foods high in saturated fat. The emphasis is on plants, and what’s noteworthy is that this diet specifically urges a higher consumption of berries and green leafy vegetables.
Fueling up with flavonoid-rich produce may indeed benefit the mind. Blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries appear to prevent cognitive aging in women by up to two and a half years, according to an earlier study published in the Annals of Neurology. Likewise, there’s a link between eating leafy green vegetables — such as kale, spinach, and collard greens — and lower inflammation and oxidative stress, two factors that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease, per a previous study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Both types of food are rich in antioxidants and can help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress occurs when antioxidant defenses are low and the body can’t fight toxic molecules called free radicals. This stress causes cell damage in the brain and throughout the body, and it has been linked with several diseases, including Alzheimer’s and cancer.
A MIND Diet Food List With the Best and Worst Foods
To help improve your cognition, you’ll need to reach for and avoid the following foods:
Foods to Eat on the MIND Diet
- Green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, collard greens, lettuce): a minimum of 6 servings a week
- Nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachios): a minimum of 5 servings a week
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries): a minimum of 2 servings a week
- Beans (black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans): a minimum of 3 servings a week
- Whole grains (quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice, whole-grain pasta, and bread): a minimum of 3 servings a day (5)
- Fish (salmon, tuna, trout): at least 1 serving a week
- Poultry (chicken, turkey): at least twice a week
- Olive oil is the primary oil used
- Wine: no more than 1 glass a day
Foods to Limit on the MIND Diet
- Red meat (steak, ground beef, pork, lamb): no more than 4 servings a week
- Butter and margarine: no more than 1 tablespoon daily
- Cheese (brie, mozzarella, or cheddar): no more than 1 serving a week
- Sweets (cakes, brownies, ice cream): no more than 5 servings a week
- Fried or fast food (french fries, chicken nuggets, onion rings, fried chicken, hamburgers): no more than 1 serving a week
A Sample 7-Day Meal Plan for the MIND Diet
Here’s an overview of what one week of eating on the MIND Diet might look like:
- Breakfast Banana-strawberry smoothie
- Lunch Kale Caesar salad
- Dinner Chili made with ground turkey and quinoa
- Breakfast Vegetable breakfast frittata and a slice of toast
- Lunch Tuna salad sandwich on whole-wheat bread
- Dinner Pecan-crusted chicken with roasted broccoli
- Breakfast Blueberry-walnut pancakes
- Lunch Grilled chicken sandwich on whole-wheat bread with celery and hummus
- Dinner Roasted turkey with a cabbage salad and a whole-wheat dinner roll
- Breakfast Greek yogurt with raspberries and 15 almonds
- Lunch Kale and spinach salad with carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, chickpeas, olive-oil-based salad dressing, and brown rice
- Dinner Whole-wheat pasta with chicken and marinara sauce, roasted broccoli, and a side salad
- Breakfast Oatmeal with blueberries and slivered almonds
- Lunch Grilled chicken, ½ pita, kale salad with chickpeas, feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olive oil
- Dinner Baked salmon with broccoli and Brussels sprouts (roasted in olive oil), quinoa, and a glass of wine
- Breakfast Whole-wheat bagel sandwich with 1 scrambled egg and blueberries on the side
- Lunch Turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread with a tomato slice, lettuce, hummus, and baby carrots on the side
- Dinner Quinoa stir fry with sautéed vegetables, beans, and olive oil
- Breakfast Whole-wheat toast with scrambled eggs and slices of avocado
- Lunch Spinach salad with strawberries, chickpeas, slivered almonds, olive oil dressing, and a small whole-grain roll
- Dinner Grilled salmon with sautéed spinach and 1/3 cup brown rice