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MIND Diet

Overview

The aim: Preventing Alzheimer’s disease with brain-healthy foods.

The claim: You may lower your risk of mental decline with this new hybrid of two balanced, heart-healthy diets – even without rigidly sticking to it – early research suggests.

The theory: The MIND diet takes two proven diets – DASH and Mediterranean – and zeroes in on the foods in each that specifically affect brain health.

The emphasis is on eating from 10 brain-healthy food groups: green leafy vegetables in particular, all other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. Meanwhile, MIND adherents avoid foods from the five unhealthy groups: red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheeses, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.

The MIND diet, which stands for “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay,” was developed by Martha Clare Morris, a nutritional epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Center, through a study funded by the National Institute on Aging and published online February 2015. Morris’ team followed the food intake of 923 Chicago-area seniors. Over four and a half years, 144 participants developed Alzheimer’s disease. The longer people had followed the MIND diet patterns, the less risk they appeared to have. Even people who made “modest” changes to their diets – who wouldn’t have fit the criteria for DASH or Mediterranean – had less risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The study found the MIND diet lowered Alzheimer’s risk by about 35 percent for people who followed it moderately well and up to 53 percent for those who adhered to it rigorously.

Two previous, large U.S. studies found significant slower cognitive decline in people who ate at least two servings of vegetables per day, with the strongest effect seen with at least six weekly servings of leafy green vegetables. Several animal studies show that eating a variety of berries is tied to better memory performance. And population studies suggest eating a single fish meal a week is related to Alzheimer’s prevention.

Morris emphasizes that findings on the diet are not definitive, with more long-term, randomized comparison studies needed. Her team’s second paper on the MIND diet found the MIND diet superior to the DASH and Mediterranean diets in preventing cognitive decline.

Rankings

MIND Diet ranked #3 in Best Diets Overall. 38 diets were evaluated with input from a panel of health experts. See how we rank diets here.

MIND Diet is ranked:

4.0

Overall

Scorecard

  • Weight Loss Short-Term
    3.2
  • Weight Loss Long-Term
    3.1
  • Easy to Follow
    3.7
  • Healthy
    4.6

Scores are based on experts’ reviews.

How does MIND Diet work?


Dos & Don’ts

Do: Pick berries.


Every day, you eat at least three servings of whole grains, a salad and another vegetable, along with drinking a glass of wine. (While a little alcohol consumption seems to be better for the brain than none at all, you could skip the wine since it’s not necessary to follow the guidelines to the letter to benefit.) On most days you snack on nuts, and every other day you eat half a cup of beans. At least twice a week you have poultry and a half-cup serving of berries (blueberries are best), and you dine on fish at least weekly. Olive oil is what you primarily use at home.

[Check out the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet. The MIND diet is a hybrid of these two diets.]

You limit unhealthy foods: fewer than four servings of red meats and products per week; fewer than five weekly servings of sweets or pastries of any kind; less than 1 tablespoon of butter a day; and less than a serving a week of cheese, fried food or fast food. There’s no daily calorie limit or specification – but keeping a healthy weight is important, Morris says.

How much does it cost?

Berries, fresh vegetables and higher-quality olive oil are often pricier than processed, fatty, sugary foods.

Will you lose weight?

Possibly. While the MIND study was not geared toward weight loss, the brain-unhealthy foods frowned on in MIND – such as whole dairy products, pastries, sweets and fried foods – are also tied to weight gain. By avoiding these foods, you might take off pounds while staving off dementia. As for the two diets on which MIND was based, some research has linked the Mediterranean diet to weight loss or being less likely to be overweight or obese. As with the DASH diet, you could lose weight on MIND, especially if you design your personal plan with a calorie deficit.

How easy is it to follow?

With broad food group recommendations, and “permission” to stick to guidelines loosely, the MIND diet should be easy to follow.

Convenience: You’re on your own when it comes to finding recipes and building meals, but eating out is doable and alcohol is allowed (in moderation).

Recipes: You’re on your own when it comes to finding or adapting recipes. There’s no grouping by meals, either, such as breakfast, lunch or dinner suggestions.

Eating out: Shouldn’t be a problem for you, other than limiting fast-food restaurants and avoiding fried entrees, butter-rich choices and cheese trays. Also, you’ll pass on sweet desserts.


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Alcohol: Enjoy a daily glass of wine for women, or two for men, but not more.

Timesavers: None, unless you can enlist help planning, shopping for and preparing meals. (Otherwise, you’re on your own.)

Extras: While not specific to the MIND diet, you could probably get and adapt tips from the Oldways website (geared toward the Mediterranean diet). Similarly, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute gives advice on healthy eating (geared toward lowering blood pressure and the DASH diet).

Fullness: Nutrition experts stress the importance of satiety – that feeling you’ve had enough to eat. With MIND’s emphasis on green leafy veggies, which are rich in fiber, and no calorie-cutting requirement, you can feel as full as you like.

Taste: If you’re used to dishes like veggies cooked in butter, your taste buds will soon adapt to olive-oil flavor. Same with foods prepared by frying: You’ll get used to baked or grilled versions instead.

Health & Nutrition

When the MIND diet first appeared in the 2016 Best Diets rankings, experts praised it for presenting new research based on the benefits of a healthy diet pattern for reducing Alzheimer’s risk. However, they pointed out that the research was in early stages and longer, more-controlled studies were needed. In April 2016, the National Institute on Aging awarded a $14.5 million grant to the Rush University-led team to launch a randomized, five-year clinical trial of the MIND diet that includes 600 older adults, some who will undergo brain scans to gauge its protective effects.

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