The MIND diet is an eating plan that optimizes brain health and prevents cognitive decline as you age. It is an amalgamation of the Mediterranean and DASH diets — two eating plans known for their health benefits and protection against conditions such as hypertension, heart attack, and stroke.
The Mind Diet focuses on eating more plant-based foods with an emphasis on leafy green vegetables and berries while limiting animal-based foods and those high in saturated fats.
How was the MIND Diet Developed?
Researchers developed the MIND diet at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. The results were published in 2015 from a study on its protective benefits against the rate of cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.
It stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay and comprises components from the Mediterranean and the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet). The researchers found that both diets were associated with lowering the risk of cardiovascular conditions that impact our brain health. Therefore, the hybrid was born with a laser focus on optimizing brain health through the types and amounts of food consumed.
How the MIND Diet Works
This diet plan includes a lot of leafy green vegetables and berries. These antioxidant-rich foods fight oxidative stress when the balance between free radicals and antioxidants is out of kilter. The direct result of oxidative stress is cellular damage, especially in the brain.
Additionally, the nuts, plant oils, seeds, and leafy green vegetables contain dietary vitamin E or tocopherol, a potent antioxidant. Omega-3s (found in fish and flaxseeds, for example) are excellent for protein synapses in the brain; and the B vitamins and vitamins C and D in the diet help neurons weather the aging process.
Guidelines for the Diet
The general guidelines of the MIND diet are to consume more of the following 10 foods:
- Leafy green vegetables
- Other vegetables
- Whole grains
- Olive oil
Foods to limit are:
- Red meats (including lamb, beef, and pork)
- Butter and margarine
- Pastries and sweets
- Fast or fried foods
The Diet Plan
To follow this plan, you must consume at least three servings of whole grains per day, one salad and one other vegetable, and no more than one glass of wine (if desired). Outside of this, you can snack on nuts daily and eat beans every other day. You can eat poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week.
What is perhaps most important is that you limit your consumption of the things on the “unhealthy list.” Butter or margarine consumption needs to be under one tablespoon daily, and cheese, fast and fried food are limited to less than a serving a week.
The point of difference between this plan and the Mediterranean and DASH plans is that there is not a great emphasis on eating fruits (sometimes three to four servings per day), high dairy, high potato, and high fish consumption (almost daily) as are recommendations of the other plans.
What Does the Diet Cost?
The MIND diet does not have a membership program where you have to sign up, pay monthly fees, and are given your meals. It is very much self-guided based on the 15 foods they itemize as “brain healthy” or “unhealthy.” However, consuming these “brain-healthy” foods in more significant amounts (olive oil, fish, nuts, fresh produce, and whole grains) can be costly. Perhaps with the emphasis on leafy green vegetables, some of the costs can be offset by growing your own vegetables. Nevertheless, eating healthily can often be more expensive than not.
Dos and Don’ts
Do’s of the MIND diet:
- Do eat a lot of green leafy vegetables.
- Do keep hydrated.
- Plan your meals, so it is easier to stick to them.
- Do keep going even if you have one “off day: or are going on vacation.
- Do get plenty of quality sleep.
And some don’ts of the MIND diet to consider:
- Don’t forget about exercise (even though it is not directly mentioned in the diet plan)
- Don’t be put off by the cost of fresh produce. Embrace growing your own or bulk frozen vegetables.
Sample Diet Plan
Here is a sample diet plan for the MIND diet.
Whole wheat bagel, a cup of blueberries, and one egg
Tuna sandwich with half a cup of three-bean salad and olive oil and one cup of sliced cucumber
Whole wheat pasta with chicken breast and beans, tossed in olive oil. One glass of red wine if desired
One-quarter cup of walnuts and half a cup of low-fat yogurt
Can include vegetables and nuts as there are no specific caloric guidelines
Health Benefits and Drawbacks
The benefits of the MIND diet are most notable in the aging populations in protection against cognitive decline. However, there is no harm in adopting this diet across all ages as it promotes higher consumption of healthy foods while avoiding sugars and processed foods.
The researchers behind the MIND diet found that adherence to the diet could result in just over a 50% reduction in the risk of development of Alzheimer’s disease. Not only this, but those that only moderately stuck to the diet protocols still showed a 35% reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s development.
The cost of eating a predominantly fresh produce diet with healthy oils can be expensive. Another drawback of the diet for some people is that they may not notice any weight loss as it does not restrict calories. However, adherence to cutting out sugars and processed foods may benefit weight loss.
The Bottom Line: Is the MIND Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
The MIND Diet is presented to us as a healthy diet incorporating many essential foods to optimize brain health and well-being. In the context of age, this helps slow cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.
However, in the context of the general population, it is beneficial in managing psychological disorders and depression. While the diet does not explicitly aim to achieve weight loss as there is no calorie counting, it does restrict processed, fried, and sugary foods, which, when avoided, can certainly result in weight loss and improved health.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.