The MIND Diet Analyzed

What Is The MIND Diet?

Have you ever heard of the MIND diet – a diet which aims to slow mental decline and reduce dementia?

Combining various aspects of two well-known diets, the DASH diet (the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diet, the MIND diet has been specifically designed to help improve brain function and reduce the risk of dementia in older people.

But what does research show? Is the MIND diet as effective as it claims to be – and can it improve brain health?

Here’s everything you need to know about the MIND diet.

How Does The MIND Diet Work?

First of all, you may be wondering what MIND stands for. Well, it’s the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. As mentioned above, it is a diet which combines two diets that are considered to be some of the healthiest. Studies have shown that both Mediterranean and DASH diets can reduce the risk of heart disease [1], lower blood pressure [2], and prevent diabetes [3].

The diet has been specially created to help improve brain function and reduce the risk of dementia – which is why the diets that have previously shown to improve brain health were chosen.

There are currently no set rules for how to follow the MIND diet. You can reap its health benefits by eating more of the healthy foods recommended by the diet such as berries, for example (which have been scientifically linked to improved brain function) [4] – and consume less of the foods that are considered to have an adverse effect on our brain health (which we’ve listed further down in the post).

What Foods Are Allowed on The MIND Diet?

The MIND diet includes a long list of foods that are considered to be very beneficial for our brain health, and are said to keep your brain young. Here are 10 different foods the MIND diet encourages:

  • When on the MIND diet, it is recommended that you eat berries at least two times a week. Berries are a great source of flavonoids [5] which work to strengthen the connections between the neurons in our brains – in turn making it easier for them to communicate.
  • Leafy vegetables. Leafy greens are the staple of the MIND diet. It is recommended that you eat at least six servings of green, leafy vegetables a week (such as spinach, broccoli, kale, salads, etc.)
  • Other vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables are best, according to the MIND diet. Aim to include at least one other type of vegetables in addition to the leafy greens.
  • You should have at least 5 servings of nuts per week (one serving is considered to be an ounce of nuts).
  • Fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as many other vitamins and nutrients. It has plenty of fantastic health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, as well as helping lower the risk of severe heart problems [6].
  • Whole grains. The MIND diet also promotes the consumption of whole grains, such as oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, and whole-wheat pasta. You should be having about three servings of whole grains a week.
  • Beans (including lentils and soybeans) should be included in at least four meals a week, according to the MIND diet.
  • Poultry (chicken and turkey) is also considered to be a brain-healthy food. However, stay away from fried chicken because that’s not considered to be beneficial for your brain.
  • Some studies show that low levels of alcohol can be good for the brain. A study conducted with mice showed that the brains of mice exposed to low levels of alcohol actually were more efficient in flushing away waste from the brain tissue [7]. Therefore, wine is part of the MIND diet – however, it is important to note that to boost your brain health, you shouldn’t consume more than one glass of wine per day.

Of course, consuming the exact recommended amount of servings may be tricky. But don’t worry – simply following the diet a moderate amount has been shown to have positive results such as a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease [8]. You don’t just have to stick to the foods listed – adding other healthful foods into your diet is allowed, as well as important. However, sticking to the diet as much as you can is recommended if you wish to take the full advantage of its brain-protecting qualities.

According to studies, altering your diet to eat more of the healthy recommended foods and reducing your intake of the foods which the diet deems to be unhealthy for your brain, is linked to improved brain function and slower cognitive decline [9], as well as a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease [10].

Foods You Should Avoid On The MIND Diet

The MIND diet also recommends that you reduce certain types of foods that have been found to have an adverse effect on your brain health. These foods contain saturated and trans fats, which raise your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol [11]

Those foods are:

  • Cheese may be delicious, but it doesn’t exactly help you keep your brain sharp. The MIND diet recommends limiting your cheese intake to not more than once per week.
  • Red meat. Red meat (including beef, lamb, pork, as well as various products made from these meats) should be limited to no more than three servings per week.
  • Butter and margarine. Replace your butter and margarine with healthy oils such as olive oil.
  • Fried/ fast food. This probably won’t come as a surprise – but fried and fast foods aren’t your brain’s best friends. The MIND diet recommends limiting your consumption of these types of foods to less than once per week.
  • Pastries and sweets. There’s a lot of processed food available to us – such as ice creams, cookies, cakes, donuts, brownies, and many, many others. Limit your consumption of these to not more than four times a week to help your brain.

Research shows that trans fats are linked to a multitude of serious health problems such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease [12]. Consuming high doses of saturated fats is has also been associated with dementia risk [13].

The Health Benefits Of The MIND Diet

The MIND diet is said to have a whole variety of science-backed health benefits that aren’t limited to improved brain health. Take a look at what these are:

The MIND Diet May Help Lower Harmful Proteins Called Beta-Amyloid

While we mostly think of protein as a nutrient which is good for the body, some proteins are harmful. Beta-amyloids are proteins which are naturally found in the body – however, they may accumulate in the brain and form plaques which inhibit communication between brain cells, and eventually even lead to brain cell death [14]. The plaques have also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease by science in that they are believed to be one of the leading causes of the illness [15]. Therefore the MIND diet is focused on the consumption of antioxidants and vitamins which help stop the formation of these beta-amyloid plaques [16]. But the MIND diet doesn’t only provide plenty of antioxidants – it also limits foods that are high in saturated and trans fats. These foods, as mentioned above, have been shown to increase the beta-amyloid protein levels in the brain. However, the study in reference was conducted with mice – and more research with human participants is needed [17].

The MIND Diet Has Been Shown to Decrease Oxidative Stress and Reduce Inflammation

Oxidative stress happens when free radicals (unstable molecules in the body) accumulate in large quantities, causing damage to the cells in the body. While the whole body is susceptible to this type of damage – our brain is particularly vulnerable. Inflammation, on the other hand, is how the body naturally responds to an injury or infection. However, inflammation can become harmful to the body when it isn’t properly regulated – and especially when it is chronic. It can cause many devastating diseases, from type 2 diabetes to Alzheimer’s disease [18].

The combination of oxidative stress and inflammation is particularly harmful to the brain. The theory the scientists behind the MIND diet have is that the diet is most beneficial to our brains because of its ability to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.

The MIND Diet Has Been Shown to Benefit The Brain

Research has also shown that the MIND diet may be incredibly beneficial for our brains.

A study of 923 elderly people found that those who followed the MIND diet the closest had a 53 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s than those who followed the diet the least [19].

What about the people who followed the MIND diet moderately? Well, interestingly, they also experienced some benefits! Their risk of Alzheimer’s disease was reduced by 35 percent, on average.

This suggests that following the MIND diet to an extent, even if you don’t follow it closely, could have a beneficial effect on your brain health.

Another study looked at the decline in brain function of those who followed the MIND diet closely versus those who followed it the least. The findings showed that those who ate the most MIND-diet friendly foods experienced a slower decline in brain function than those who followed the diet the least [20].

The results of these early studies seem promising – but because the diet hasn’t been around for that long, more longitudinal studies are needed to determine whether the MIND diet directly benefits brain function.

Is the MIND Diet Effective for Losing Weight?

It is not entirely clear whether the MIND diet can help you lose weight because it was designed to improve brain health – and has primarily been tested to understand its effect on slowing brain function decline.

However, the diet is ranked #29 for weight loss in the U.S. News Best Diet Rankings [21]  – and is considered to be very healthy and balanced (as well as easy to follow!).

Conclusion

The MIND diet was created to benefit our brain and slow the decline of the brain function. Early research has shown it to be effective in doing so – but more studies are needed to establish whether it is definitely effective in preventing dementia, reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and slowing the loss of brain function.

The MIND diet consists of a variety of healthy foods, such as vegetables, nuts, berries, whole grains, olive oil, fish, poultry, beans, and wine – all said to protect your brain from cognitive decline. The diet is repeatedly ranked among best diets – including as one of the easiest diets to follow, best diets for diabetes, and best heart-healthy diets [22].

Containing a wide range of nutrients and vitamins, these foods support the brain and possibly reduce inflammation, oxidative stress, as well as the formation of beta-amyloid plaques.

While the research is ongoing, incorporating more foods from the MIND diet into your everyday meals could be a great way to make sure you’re doing your part in helping your brain stay healthy. The diet is sensible, healthy and balanced – so it doesn’t only contribute to a healthier brain, but also supports other vital organs in the body, such as your heart.

Kath Ross, PhD
Kath Ross, PhD
Health Editor & Fact Checker at DietProbe
Kathryn is a Ph.D Health Editor here at DietProbe. She specializes in diabetes and weight control research and in her spare time she's a professional cat lady and wine connoisseur!
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