If you are looking for a way to improve your cognitive function and prevent dementia, you may want to consider the MIND diet. The MIND diet stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay and it combines elements of two well-known healthy diets: the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.
The MIND diet was developed by researchers who wanted to create a dietary pattern that focuses specifically on brain health. They followed a group of older adults for up to 10 years and found that those who followed the MIND diet had a significantly slower rate of cognitive decline and a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those who followed other diets.
So what does the MIND diet entail? Here are some of the main features of this brain-healthy eating plan:
10 Foods to Eat on the MIND Diet
The MIND diet encourages the consumption of 10 types of foods that have been shown to benefit brain function and prevent cognitive impairment. These are:
- Green, leafy vegetables: Aim for six or more servings per week. This includes kale, spinach, cooked greens, and salads. Green leafy vegetables are rich in antioxidants, vitamin K, folate, and lutein, which may protect against inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain.
- All other vegetables: Try to eat another vegetable in addition to the green leafy vegetables at least once per day. It’s best to choose non-starchy vegetables because they provide a lot of nutrients for a low number of calories. Vegetables also contain phytochemicals that may have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.
- Berries: Eat berries at least twice per week. Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries all have antioxidant benefits that may help prevent age-related memory loss and cognitive decline.
- Nuts: Try to get five or more servings of nuts each week. Nuts are a good source of healthy fats, protein, fiber, vitamin E, and minerals that may support brain health and lower cholesterol levels. The creators of the MIND diet don’t specify what kind of nuts to consume, but it is probably best to vary the type of nuts you eat to obtain a variety of nutrients.
- Olive oil: Use olive oil as your main cooking oil. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) that may improve blood flow to the brain and reduce inflammation. Olive oil also contains polyphenols that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Whole grains: Eat at least three servings of whole grains per day. Whole grains include oats, quinoa, brown rice, barley, and whole wheat products. Whole grains provide complex carbohydrates, fiber, B vitamins, and minerals that may help regulate blood sugar levels and support brain function.
- Fish: Eat fish at least once per week. Fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for brain health. Omega-3s may help prevent cognitive decline by reducing inflammation, improving blood flow, and enhancing synaptic plasticity.
- Beans: Eat beans at least four times per week. Beans are a great source of plant-based protein, fiber, iron, folate, and antioxidants that may benefit brain health. Beans may also help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which are risk factors for dementia.
- Poultry: Eat poultry at least twice per week. Poultry such as chicken and turkey are lean sources of protein that provide amino acids that are needed for neurotransmitter synthesis and brain function. Poultry also contains choline, which is important for memory and learning.
- Wine: Drink one glass of wine per day (optional). Moderate alcohol consumption may have some benefits for brain health by increasing blood flow and reducing inflammation. However, excessive alcohol intake can have negative effects on cognition and increase the risk of dementia. Therefore, it is important to drink responsibly and limit your intake to one glass per day or less.
5 Foods to Avoid on the MIND Diet
The MIND diet also recommends limiting or avoiding five types of foods that are high in saturated fat or trans fat. These fats can increase inflammation, oxidative stress, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure, which can damage brain cells and impair cognitive function. The foods to avoid are:
- Red meat: Eat less than four servings per week. Red meat includes beef, pork, lamb, and products made from these meats. Red meat is high in saturated fat and iron that can promote oxidative stress in the brain. Red meat consumption has also been linked with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Butter and margarine: Eat less than one tablespoon per day. Butter and margarine are high in saturated fat and trans fat that can raise cholesterol levels and impair blood flow to the brain. Instead of butter or margarine, use olive oil or other healthy oils for cooking or spreading.
- Cheese: Eat less than one serving per week. Cheese is another source of saturated fat that can negatively affect brain health. Cheese also contains tyramine.
- Fried food: Eat less than once per week. Fried foods can cause inflammation, which can damage the blood vessels that supply the brain with blood and hurt the brain itself. Fried foods are also high in saturated fat and trans fat, which can impair memory and increase the risk of dementia. Fried foods can also affect the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that helps regulate hunger, and make it harder to control your appetite.
- Pastries and sweets: Have fewer than five servings per week. Pastries and sweets are high in added sugars, which can impair memory and reduce the plasticity of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory. Added sugars can also spike your blood sugar levels, which can make you feel mentally foggy and increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Pastries and sweets may also contain trans fats, which can damage your brain cells and increase inflammation. Additionally, pastries and sweets can trigger a reward response in the brain, which can lead to cravings, overeating, and addiction-like effects.