The MIND Diet: How to Eat for a Healthy Mind

. The MIND diet is a new brain-healthy diet that helps reduce Alzheimer’s risk while boosting overall cognitive and mental health. Learn how, start now.

 

There’s exciting news about a new diet known as the MIND diet.

The findings of a large clinical study show great promise for this diet’s cognitive and mental health benefits, especially in regards to Alzheimer’s disease.

Finding the key to preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most pressing medical needs of our time.

Alzheimer’s is currently the sixth leading cause of death and is the only top 10 cause that cannot be prevented, adequately treated, or cured. (1)

But now the MIND diet has shown that it can significantly reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Moreover, this diet is NOT just for seniors — it’s for anyone who wants better thinking, focus, and productivity today.

Let’s take a closer look at exactly what the MIND diet is and why researchers are hopeful about it.

Then we’ll give you all the information you need to implement this way of eating, including dozens of delicious MIND diet recipes.

 

What Is the MID Diet?

The MIND diet is a fusion of two diets considered to be among the most healthy, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.

The Mediterranean diet is one of the most popular and widely researched ways of eating.

It emphasizes vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, olive oil, and red wine.

The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for treating high blood pressure.

It also revolves around eating whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, but one of the ways it differs is that it is a low-sodium diet.

A research team at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center set out to combine the best of both diets into one and prove, or disprove, its ability to prevent Alzheimer’s.

Originally it was called the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet, but was thankfully shortened to the MIND diet.

The MIND Diet: What the Research Shows

To gather data for this diet, researchers reviewed the diets of volunteers already enrolled in the Rush Memory and Aging Project which had been studying seniors in Chicago since 1997. (2)

Over 900 people between the ages of 58 and 98 were tracked. (3)

Questionnaires were used to assess participants’ diets and neurological testing was done to monitor their cognitive health.

The study, which was published in 2015, found that those who rigorously followed the MIND diet reduced their risk for Alzheimer’s by an impressive 53%.

One of the surprising findings was that participants did not have to follow the diet strictly to get significant benefits.

Even those who made modest changes to their diets still reduced their Alzheimer’s risk by 35%.

However, the longer and more closely the MIND diet was followed, the better the outcome.

Those who most closely followed the diet’s recommendations had brains equivalent to someone 7.5 years younger.

How the MIND Diet Compares to Similar Diets

Not all Rush Memory and Aging Project study participants followed the MIND diet.

Some followed a Mediterranean diet, while others followed the DASH diet.

Those who followed the Mediterranean diet showed a 54% reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s — a slight improvement over the MIND diet. (4)

But the MIND diet was considered most effective overall since it helped even when not followed exactly, which was not the case with the Mediterranean diet.

The DASH diet came in third with a 39% reduction in risk of Alzheimer’s.

Related article —
12 Brain Foods That Supercharge Your Memory, Focus & Mood

The MIND Diet Principles

Following the core principles of the MIND diet won’t just help protect you against Alzheimer’s, it will help you boost and maintain good brain health and function now.

The principles behind the MIND diet are pretty simple.

Foods are divided into two groups — those to include in your diet and those to avoid or minimize. (5)

Here’s a list of both sets of recommendations.

10 Groups of Foods to Include in the MIND Diet

  • Whole grains — 3 or more servings per day
  • Green leafy vegetables — 6 servings per week
  • Other vegetables — 1 serving per day
  • Nuts — 5 servings per week
  • Berries — 2 or more servings per week
  • Beans or legumes — 3 or more servings per week
  • Fish — 1 or more serving per week
  • Poultry — 2 or more servings per week
  • Wine — 1 serving per day
  • Olive oil — use as the main cooking oil

5 Groups of Foods to Minimize in the MIND Diet

  • Pastries and sweets — less than 5 servings per week
  • Red meat — less than 4 servings per week
  • Cheese — less than 1 serving per week
  • Fried or fast food — less than 1 serving per week
  • Butter and margarine — less than 1 tablespoon per day

This graphic from Canadian Living illustrates these principles visually.

 

How the MIND Diet Protects Against Alzheimer’s

Obviously, eating more veggies and fewer pastries is a good health move, but the mechanism of risk reduction with the MIND diet is unclear.

Here are some of the most likely explanations for why it inhibits mental decline.

The MIND diet is high in brain-protective vitamins.

A diet high in plant-based foods will be high in the vitamins needed to help prevent cognitive impairment.

Separately, both vitamins C and E are antioxidants which protect the brain from free radical damage, but together these vitamins have a powerful synergistic effect.

A large study confirmed that vitamin C combined with vitamin E can prevent memory loss and lower the risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia by 60%. (6)

 

 

✓ Antioxidant Supplements

Flavonoids called anthocyanins are responsible for berries’ beautiful colors and are linked to the improvement of a wide range of cognitive skills. (13)

Berries also contain phytonutrients that clear the brain of toxic proteins believed to contribute to Alzheimer’s. (14)

The MIND diet recommends eating fish.

Fish is an excellent source of vitamin B12 and omega-3 essential fatty acids.

A deficiency of B12 affects 40% of all adults and is a particular problem for seniors. (1516)

Long-term B12 deficiency can contribute to nerve damage, brain atrophy, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. (17)

Omega-3 essential fatty acids are essential for brain health and function.

✓ DHA Supplements

One particular omega-3, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), is a major building block of the brain.

It protects against age-related mental decline and lowers the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. (1819)

The MIND diet minimizes sugar, trans fats, and fast food.

When you reduce your consumption of sweets and fast food as suggested in the MIND diet, you will automatically reduce the amount of sugar and trans fats you consume.

And that is great news for your brain.

Excess consumption of refined carbohydrates such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and white flour contributes to insulin resistance and diabetes.

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Even in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s, the brain’s ability to metabolize glucose, its main source of energy, is compromised.

Insulin becomes less effective in helping the brain take up sugar from the blood and brain cells start to starve to death. (20)

Alzheimer’s disease is now considered by some researchers to be a third form of diabetes. (21)

Trans fats are the kind found in hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils.

These dangerous fats have been linked to many of the most deadly diseases including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. (2223)

Even a moderate intake of trans fats can double your risk for Alzheimer’s. (24)

Many countries have already banned trans fats.

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration has given food manufacturers until June, 2018 to remove them from fast food and processed foods. (25)

The MIND diet recommends you shelve polyunsaturated vegetable oils like canola, safflower, and soy oil.

These oils are processed with heat and chemicals which create trans fats before you’ve even opened the bottle. (26)

One study found that store-bought canola oil contained up to 4.2% trans fats. (27)

Use olive oil instead.

Related article —
The Role Sugar Plays in Depression and Anxiety

MIND Diet Recipes

The guidelines for the MIND diet are rather straightforward, but unfortunately there aren’t too many places to find MIND diet recipes online.

So I contacted some of our favorite brain health experts, bloggers, and cookbook authors for their favorite recipes that meet MIND diet specifications.

We’ve compiled over 40 recipes and loosely sorted them into four categories — breakfast, side dishes, main courses, and snacks and desserts.

But there’s no reason you can’t eat a side dish or two for dinner or have a snack for breakfast.

Most recipes below link to the original recipe on the contributor’s website.

A few are not found anywhere else online and are published in their entirety here.

Below each recipe link, you’ll see

 

After a night of rest, your brain needs high-quality fuel to get it charged and ready for the day.

Here’s more than a week’s worth of breakfast recipes that will help you start the morning right.

Banana-Strawberry Smoothie  

oats, strawberries, yogurt

Blueberry-Walnut Pancakes

almond milk, walnuts, blueberries, coconut flour

Buckwheat Flap Jacks

buckwheat flour, almond milk, coconut oil, berries

✓ Coconut Oil
See Amazon.com for best selection and value

 

These side dishes range from soups to salads.

They can accompany your main course at dinner or make an excellent lunch or light dinner on their own.

Arugula, Strawberry and Walnut Salad 

arugula, walnuts, endive, strawberries 

Barley Stuffed Tomato with Caramelized Vegetables 

barley, tomatoes, onion, fennel, artichoke hearts 

Basil Pesto

olive oil, basil, pine nuts

Brandon’s Roasted Broccoli 

broccoli, olive oil

Chilled Cerebellum Cucumber Soup

cucumber, avocado, green onion

Global Dark Leafy Greens 

dino kale, red onion, pumpkin seeds

Golden Roasted Cauliflower 

cauliflower, olive oil, turmeric

Ikarian Tabouli Salad 

bulgur wheat, green onions, tomatoes, olive oil

Kale Caesar Salad 

kale, anchovies, olive oil

Pecan Wild Rice and Goji Berry Pilaf 

wild rice, brown rice, goji berries

Quinoa Kale Salad with Red Grapes

quinoa, kale, olive oil

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Arugula and Hazelnuts

asparagus, arugula, hazelnuts, olive oil

Summer Vegetable Bean Soup 

brown rice, mung beans, variety of vegetables

Thai Cabbage Salad 

red cabbage, mixed greens, cashews

The next recipe was contributed by Max Lugavere, director of the upcoming documentary Bread Head which explores the impact of diet and lifestyle on brain health. You may have seen Max on the Dr. Oz show where he is a recurring “core expert.”

This recipe doesn’t have any cheese in it — but it tastes like it does!

 

According to MIND diet recommendations, you should be eating legumes three times per week, poultry twice, and seafood at least once.

Here are a few recipes featuring each of these protein sources.

Legume Recipes

Creamy Zucchini Noodles with White Lentil Spring Onion Sauce

white lentils, green onions, basil, zucchini, sunflower seeds 

Ikarian Longevity Stew With Black Eyed Peas 

black eyed peas, tomato, fennel, onion, olive oil 

Tuscan Baked Beans with Kale 

white beans, mixed green vegetables, rosemary

Poultry Recipes

Cranberry-Orange Turkey 

turkey, olive oil, cranberries

Greek Chicken Thighs with Artichokes and Olives  

chicken, olives, olive oil, artichoke hearts

Pecan-Crusted Chicken 

chicken, pecans

Seafood Recipes

Crunchy Walnut-Crusted Salmon Fillets 

salmon, walnuts, olive oil

Mussels Three Ways 

mussels, white wine, tomatoes, kale, pine nuts

 

.

But that can get a little dull.

Here you’ll find brain-healthy versions of everyone’s favorite snacks — cookies, dips, ice cream, and more.

Baba Ghanoush (Eggplant Dip)

eggplant, tahini, olive oil

Coconut and Ginger Ice Cream

coconut, almonds, ginger

Grown-Up Chocolate Pudding with Raspberries 

raspberries, dark chocolate, coconut milk

No-Sugar Sesame Cookies 

olive oil, sesame seeds, tahini, whole wheat

Savory Roasted Chickpeas 

chickpeas, olive oil

Supercharged Trail Mix

walnuts, almonds, cashews, coconut, cacao nibs, goji berries

Limitations of the MIND Diet

The benefits of the MIND diet are obvious.

It shows that what you eat can have an impact on your risk of Alzheimer’s.

As these delicious recipes demonstrate, it’s no hardship to follow.

Plus, you don’t have to stick to it perfectly to reap its rewards.

But there are some limitations to this diet.

No one, not even the research team behind the MIND diet, is suggesting that diet alone will prevent Alzheimer’s. (28)

The MIND diet’s lead study author, Dr. Martha Clare Morris, admits that diet is just one of many factors in the development of this disease.

Genetics and, very importantly, other lifestyle factors like smoking, exercise, and education also play a role.

She readily acknowledges that the MIND diet is a very promising start, but more research needs to be done. (29)

She fully expects that modifications will be made to the diet as the body of knowledge on the effects of diet on the brain grows.

One big problem with this study was that it relied on study participants honestly and accurately reporting what they ate.

It’s well known that people tend to underestimate how much bad food they consume and overestimate how much healthy food they eat.

Lastly, the MIND diet did not yield a significant improvement over the Mediterranean diet.

In fact, when followed correctly, the Mediterranean diet provided slightly more protection against Alzheimer’s. (30)

6 Suggested Upgrades to the MIND Diet

The MIND diet is clearly a big step in the right direction away from the standard American diet which is loaded with processed foods.

But it’s still very much a work in progress.

Here are six evidence-based changes that we hope will be incorporated into the MIND diet in future studies.

Meanwhile, there’s no reason you can’t upgrade your own diet and make these changes now.

  1. Less emphasis on whole wheat.

Whole wheat is the most common whole grain, but it’s at the bottom of our list of grains for several reasons.

Bread, even when it’s made from whole wheat, has a glycemic index equal to that of white sugar. (3132)

Most people find that wheat stimulates their appetite and few of us need that! (33)

Wheat can worsen symptoms of certain brain disorders including schizophrenia, autism, and ADHD. (343536)

Instead, try some of the other whole grains such as amaranth, barley, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa, rye, and wild rice. (37)

Even popcorn, one of America’s favorite snacks, qualifies as a whole grain.

A tip for eating less wheat is to substitute almond flour or coconut flour in recipes that call for wheat flour.

  1. More emphasis on healthy fats.

Coconut oil, avocado, and eggs should be added to the list of foods to include in your diet.

Your brain is largely made of fat and these foods provide the building blocks needed to create healthy brain cells.

And what’s margarine doing on the MIND Diet list?

It’s loaded with unhealthy trans fats and should be avoided completely. (38)

✓ Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  1. More emphasis on cold-water, fatty fish.

Fish is widely considered to be a brain food, but not all fish are equally good for your brain.

Only fatty fish caught in cold waters contain substantial amounts of omega-3 essential fatty acids.

The best fish for your brain are salmon, herring, mackerel, halibut, and sardines. (40)

✓ Fish Oil Supplements

  1. Include fermented foods.

Fermented foods contain natural psychobiotics — live bacteria that offer mental health benefits.

Virtually all healthy traditional diets include fermented foods. (41)

Look for yogurt or kefir that contains live cultures, traditionally fermented soy products, and unpasteurized sauerkraut and pickled vegetables.

.

✓ Curcumin + Turmeric Supplements

  1. Exclude artificial sweeteners.

There is no specific mention of artificial sweeteners in the MIND diet, but the DASH diet allows the use of artificial sweeteners in moderation. (43)

But the use of chemical sweeteners is highly controversial and until more is known about their long-term effects on the brain, I suggest you avoid them.

Instead, you can use stevia, a non-caloric sweetener that comes from a plant instead of a laboratory.

MIND Diet Resources

We hope these recipes inspire you to start cooking with your brain health in mind.

For more great recipes, we recommend you check out these books and blogs from our recipe contributors.

You’ll find more great MIND diet-friendly recipes and additional information on how to keep your brain sharp for life at the links below.

BrainHQ is an online brain training program created by an international team of neuroscientists. They also have a great selection of brain-healthy recipes.

At DrJockers.com, you’ll find recipes along with numerous free ebooks and handouts on various health topics including brain health. Dr. David Jockers is the author of SuperCharge Your Brain.

Dr. Mark Hyman is the New York Times bestselling author of The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First. You’ll find literally hundreds of recipes on his blog.

The Blue Zones was a New York Times bestseller about places in the world where people live unusually long and productive lives. On the book’s companion blog BlueZones.com, you’ll find free online recipes that follow the Blue Zones Guidelines for longevity.

Rebecca Katz is an accomplished chef who has worked with the country’s top wellness leaders, including Andrew Weil, Deepak Chopra, and Dean Ornish. Her book, The Healthy Mind Cookbook: Big-Flavor Recipes to Enhance Brain Function, Mood, Memory, and Mental Clarity, proves you can eat food that is tasty, visually appealing, and good for your brain. You’ll find hundreds of recipes on her website.

Maggie Moon, MS, RDN, is uniquely qualified to write a MIND diet cookbook. She is a registered dietitian nutritionist and has culinary school training. The MIND Diet: A Scientific Approach to Enhancing Brain Function and Helping Prevent Alzheimer’s and Dementia  is one of the very few cookbooks available specifically for the MIND diet. You’ll also find many delicious recipes on her website MIND Diet Meals.

Walnuts.org is the place to learn about eating and using walnuts. You’ll find recipes created by chefs and a free 20 page walnut cookbook.

Oldwayspt.org is a nonprofit organization that seeks to inspire healthy eating through cultural food traditions. They are well known for creating the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. This is the go-to place for everything you need to know about implementing and enjoying the Mediterranean way of eating.

Lifespa.com is a top resource for information on Ayurvedic medicine. This ancient practice originated in India over 3,000 years ago and is one of the world’s oldest healing systems. They’ve got a good selection of meat-free recipes.

Dr. Drew Ramsey is one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using diet to help balance moods, sharpen brain function and improve mental health. He wrote the iconic Fifty Shades of Kale. You can learn more about using food to improve mental health on his website DrewRamseyMD.com.

Chronic inflammation has been linked to Alzheimer’s as well as many other brain disorders and autoimmune diseases. At SuperchargedFood.com, you’ll learn how to use food to turn down the flame of inflammation. You’ll find hundreds of recipes that are gluten, wheat, dairy, yeast and sugar free.

If you’ve ever wondered how to find a good olive oil or how to use it in cooking, visit OliveOilSource.com. It’s one of the most comprehensive sources on the web for everything related to olive oil. When you are ready to move beyond pouring olive oil on your salad, check out their creative culinary uses for olive oil.

The MIND Diet: The Bottom Line

The MIND diet combines the basic tenets of two very healthy diets, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.

Research shows that following the MIND diet rigorously can significantly reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and that following it even partially still provides worthwhile benefits.

Our understanding of dietary influences on Alzheimer’s disease is in its infancy and there is no ultimate anti-Alzheimer’s diet yet.

Better recommendations will almost certainly be forthcoming as research learns more about how diet affects and protects the brain.

For now, there is one basic principle on which all the experts agree:

Eat more whole foods and fewer processed ones.

This one piece of advice is so important for anyone, at any age, who wants to have better cognitive and mental health.

Follow this core concept behind the MIND diet to help boost and maintain good brain health and fitness, both now and in the future.

 

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