The MIND diet is a brain-focused diet that stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It’s a mix of the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diet, of course, and zooms in on food groups in each diet that can increase brain power, and support it against age-related conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
How does the MIND diet work?
One of the main focuses of this diet includes minimally processed plant-based foods. Plus, it recommends that you stay away from animal-based foods and meats that are high in saturated fats, and foods with extra added sugars. Portion control is also another major factor – but unlike diets that focus on weight loss, the MIND one does not.
In terms of principles, there are ten food groups that are championed and five that are not. The ones recommended include eating plenty of fruit, veg, and whole grains daily, one to two servings of poultry, fish, and beans every week, and daily snacks that include berries and nuts. It’s also important that you favour olive oil as the oil to cook with because it’s a healthy source of fat. It’s also the go-to Mediterranean diet choice due to its reputation for inducing good heart health.
When it comes to meats – if you follow a carnivorous diet and won’t negotiate on cutting out meat completely, the diet plan recommends eating it sparingly. This also includes dairy products, too. Instead, you can substitute some of the meat you normally eat in a week for protein-packed foods, like beans and legumes (lentils, chickpeas, etc.) to boost brain health and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The food lowdown
Trying out a new diet can be just as nerve-wracking as it can be exciting, but the MIND diet, in particular, is full of foods that not only support brain health but are also incredibly tasty and versatile. So, here are the ten foods that are encouraged when taking on the MIND diet:
- Leafy green vegetables
The diet recommends eating six or more servings a week of greens including spinach, kale, salads, etc.
- Other vegetables
As well as the leafy vegetables, it’s important to add other veggies to your diet at least once a day. The ones low in starch are the best (spinach, asparagus, artichokes, beans, etc.) as their calorie-to-nutrients ratio is praised.
Five or more servings of nuts a week is recommended. The ones with the best brain health benefits include pistachios, whose oils help to prevent inflammation and preserve fatty acids, almonds, which can improve memory, and macadamias, which help contribute to cognitive function.
The MIND diet plans advise eating berries at least twice a week. The best ones include raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries, as they all have antioxidant benefits.
- Olive oil
We’ve already mentioned the importance of olive oil when cooking, just make sure you don’t go overboard. Everything in moderation.
Again, we’ve already mentioned how you should eat fish, and that you should try and cook it one or two times a week. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel and sardines are often the most popular choices due to their high omega-3 fatty acids levels.
- Whole grains
At least three servings of whole grains every day are advised when you’re following the MIND diet. You’ll want to opt for things like brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, whole wheat bread and whole wheat pasta. If you also follow a gluten-free diet, you may want to focus on the first three on the list.
According to the MIND diet, beans should be included in at least four of your meals every week. This includes all beans, by the way, so don’t just stock up on hundreds of tins of Heinz. We’re also talking lentils, soybeans, etc.
Chicken or turkey should try to be factored in at least twice a week. Again, don’t be heading to your local KFC twice a week for your fried chicken fix – the MIND diet discourages anything fried.
This is an exciting one for those who enjoy a cheeky glass of wine at dinner. While the diet doesn’t recommend any more than one glass per day, research has shown that both red and white wine can benefit brain function.
This study from professor Paul Schimmel of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California has shown that resveratrol, an organic compound that’s found in red wine can start a chemical pathway that can reduce stress and damage to the brain’s DNA cells. The cells that would otherwise be damaged through disease and the ageing process.
Another study from the University of Rochester Medical Center shows that consuming lower levels of alcohol, including wine, can reduce brain inflammation and clear away toxins, including ones linked to serious brain diseases. Plus, research from Johns Hopkins Medicine has found that red wine can help protect the brain from further damage following a stroke.
Bare in mind that following the diet doesn’t restrict you from eating other foods outside of the ten mentioned above. And if you’re unable to manage the target servings of each, it doesn’t mean that you should quit the diet completely. Further research suggests that following the MIND diet to even an average degree can still reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and poor brain function.
What foods should you avoid?
Like any diet, there are also foods you should avoid. So, to help boost the brain-boosting foods even further, take note of the below, especially if your current diet features a few of them regularly.
- Butter and margarine
Less than one tablespoon (or around 14 grams) of either is the recommended daily amount. Instead, opt for the olive oil we spoke about earlier as your go-to cooking fat source. Plus, you can also mix it with some herbs and use as a dip – it’s a favourite in the Med.
If you’re a big cheese lover, we’re sorry. But the MIND diet recommends that you only eat cheese less than once a week. We advise a one-week on, one-week off situation for this one.
- Fried food
For a brain-healthy diet, any kind of fried food is actively discouraged, especially if it’s from fast-food restaurants. The MIND diet says less than once per week, and tbh, we can’t argue.
- Red Meat
No more than three servings of red meat per week is advised. This includes beef, lamb, and pork, plus all products that are made from these meats.
- Sweets and pastries
This is all-encompassing, and probably includes most of the sweet treats you’d consider your favourites. Sorry to disappoint, but it’s recommended things like ice cream, cakes, brownies, cookies, doughnuts, sweets, etc, shouldn’t be consumed more than four times a week.
The reason these foods have been put on the “naughty list”, is that the majority contain saturated fats and trans fats. The latter is considered one of the worst kinds of fats for you, as they can lower good cholesterol, raise bad cholesterol, and increase the risk of heart disease. The former can also be credited for this, plus being bad for the brain, too. Consuming too much of both kinds of fats can lead to the plasticity of brain cells breaking down, which can stunt the process of information.
What are the other benefits?
As well as the reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and the fact it can improve brain function and overall brain health, there are other benefits that come with following the MIND-dash and Mediterranean diets. These include:
Reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease
A diet high in fibre, vitamins, healthy fats, and being predominantly plant-based is extremely good for the heart. So much so, that the foods recommended in the MIND diet help to reduce the rate of heart disease, plus lower the total deaths, cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol that developing this illness can instigate, according to research.
The primary fat in the diet – olive oil – can also help to prevent heart failure, along with irregular heartbeats, artery plaque build-up, and heart disease. And when it comes to berries, flavonoids (the natural compounds found in fruit and veg) have been linked to lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as improving overall heart health.
Reducing the risk of diabetes
Want to reduce your risk of developing diabetes? Eating a high amount of fruits, veggies, and whole grains will do the trick. And lucky for you, they’re a core part of the MIND diet. Plus, most of the foods involved in the diet have also been linked to reducing type 2 diabetes by 20%.
And due to the discouraging of sweet treats like pastries and cakes (which are well known to speed up the development of the disease if consumed in large amounts), the diet overall is very diabetes-friendly.
Reducing the risk of inflammation
Another cheer for olive oil, please. The super fat is the key MIND diet anti-inflammatory ingredient. According to this study, it reduced inflammation in adults had a stronger effect on those who were at a higher risk of developing heart disease. It’s also been linked to reducing inflammation in autoimmune diseases, too, including IBS, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and ALS.
Keep your brain healthy
Whether you’re a young person looking for brain foods or you’re an older adult looking for healthy eating options to boost brain health, slow down age-related cognitive decline, and keep health conditions like Alzheimer’s disease at bay, the MIND diet is the perfect regime to try.
Consisting of food groups and ingredients that are already bursting with flavour, it’s a healthy living lifestyle choice that has an abundance of benefits. Why not give it a try and feed your body with the fuel it needs to thrive?