The MIND diet has been generating a lot of media buzz lately, and with good reason. MIND combines aspects of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet to create an eating plan focused on brain health—namely the prevention of dementia and age-related cognitive decline.
But the MIND diet also offers other benefits, including reducing the risk of chronic disease and even promoting weight loss. Research supports its effectiveness, and it can be followed by anyone. No wonder MIND made U.S. News and World Report‘s best diets of 2019 list, which was published earlier this month. Here’s how to follow it, what the research says, and potential drawbacks to be aware of.
What is the MIND diet?
MIND specifically stands for the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It sounds complicated, but the thinking behind it is simple. Rather than a set meal plan, MIND’s primary directive is to regularly eat more servings of 10 proven brain-defending foods:
Green leafy vegetables: six or more servings per week
All other vegetables: at least one serving a day, particularly non-starchy veggies
Nuts: five servings or more weekly
Berries: at least two servings a week
Beans: a minimum of four servings per week.
Olive oil: to be used as your main prep and cooking oil
Whole grains: at least three servings per day
Fish: at least once a week, particularly fatty fish high in omega-3s, like salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout, and tuna
Poultry: chicken or turkey twice a week or more (but not fried)
Olive oil is also part of the MIND diet; it should be used as your main cooking and prep oil. The food prep method singled out as something to avoid is frying. The plan suggests keeping your fried food intake to once a week or less.
On the list of foods to be limited are butter and margarine (less than 1 tablespoon of either per day), cheese (one serving per week or less), wine (no more than one glass a day), red meat (no more than three weekly servings), and pastries and sweets (limit to four times a week).
Benefits of the MIND diet
The MIND diet has many pros. It’s clearly a healthful eating pattern, focused on whole, nutrient-rich foods. Because these foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants—and the plan limits problematic foods like sugar—following the MIND diet can result in a variety of health benefits. These include the prevention of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, as well as reductions in blood pressure and improved digestive health. In studies, the plan has indeed been shown to reduce inflammation, a known trigger of premature aging and disease.
One caveat; since MIND is newer than both the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet, there are fewer studies on its outcomes. However, the published research is impressive. In one study of nearly a thousand older adults, those who followed the MIND diet most closely had a 53% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who deviated from it the most.
Research has also already shown that the Mediterranean diet is good for your brain. A recent review of studies linked the diet to better memory and less cognitive decline not just in older adults but in younger people as well.
Drawbacks of the MIND diet
As a practitioner, I like approaches that are simple and straightforward. MIND is that, but the execution can be tricky. For example, many of my clients have no idea what a serving of nuts, whole grains, or other foods looks like. (To find out what a correct portion is for specific foods, consult this portion-size guide from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.)
And most also struggle with how to transform the MIND guidelines into concrete meal plans and recipes. If you feel the same, there are books and online resources to help, but there is no one official MIND diet website for FAQs and support.
Because the plan focuses on whole, high-fiber foods, it may also help you lose weight, as long as you aren’t overeating the allowed foods. If your diet was lacking in veggies and overloaded with processed foods, you very well may shed pounds. But eating too much of even healthful foods, like quinoa, brown rice, and nuts, can prevent successful weight loss.
Should you try MIND?
The bottom line: The MIND diet is a solid, healthful, sustainable approach to eating. If you need assistance transforming the basic outline into precisely what and how much to eat, consider consulting with a registered dietitian nutritionist, who can tailor the plan to your needs and goals. Or, at the very least, hop online to access some helpful tools.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health‘s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.
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