We often diet with our physical health in mind – whether it’s to lose weight or simply eat healthier – but dieting should also benefit us mentally. The MIND diet is beneficial for brain health and overall health, including:

  • Brain health, memory, cognition (in seniors, adults and children)
  • Mood, depression
  • Energy, healthy body weight
  • Heart disease, hypertension
  • Metabolism, blood sugar control, diabetes

The MIND diet is an eating approach that combines Mediterranean Diet and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet principles into a plan that nourishes brain health, reduces risk for chronic disease and promotes a healthy body weight. But what is the MIND diet? The “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay” (MIND) diet was developed by nutritional epidemiologist Martha Morris, PhD and her team at Rush University Medical Center as an approach to help reduce risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. Studies demonstrated that the MIND diet lowered the risk for Alzheimer’s Disease by as much as 53 percent in participants who strictly adhered to the diet, and by almost 35 percent in participants who “mostly” followed the diet.

MIND diet recommendations are based on outcomes from years of research on how foods impact brain function and neurodegenerative delay. The MIND diet includes 10 brain-healthy food groups and five food groups to limit.

Ten Healthy Food Groups to Emphasize:

  • Green leafy vegetables (excellent source B vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and low in calories)
  • Other Vegetables
  • Nuts, seeds (healthy fats, minerals and antioxidants)
  • Berries (Blueberries and strawberries are emphasized; excellent sources of brain protective nutrients)
  • Beans, lentils (Fiber promoting gut-brain health, vitamins and protein)
  • Whole grains (replacing refined grains which can have negative effects on brain health)
  • Fish (DHA, omega -3 healthy fats), poultry (less saturated fat, high lean protein)
  • Olive oil (healthy oil that promotes vascular health)
  • Wine (up to 5 ounces per day if desired – more than 1 drink per day can have negative effects)

Five Food Groups to Eat Less of: (once per week or less)

  • Sweets, pastries (refined flours, sugar are associated with reduced brain health including depression and brain “fog”)
  • Deep fried food, restaurant fast food (oxidative chemicals that compromise brain health)
  • Processed cheese (choose reduced fat traditionally cultured cheese)
  • Stick margarine and butter (balance fats, too much saturated fat decrease neurological function)
  • Red meats (moderate intake 6-9 ounces per week – choose lean cuts to reduce saturated fat)

NOTE: In addition to the MIND diet guidelines, try including 2-3 servings daily of low fat dairy (yogurt or milk) or dairy alternative that is fortified with both calcium and vitamin D (such as soy milk). Both nutrients are essential for bone health and vitamin D plays a key role in reducing risk for depression. When it comes to fruit, in addition to berries, enjoy two servings or more fruit each day.

Make it Easy

You can easily incorporate MIND diet principles into your daily routine by enjoying a dark green leafy salad every day, selecting whole grains (whole wheat, oat, or brown rice) instead of white grains and adding a couple tablespoons of nuts to your snack or oatmeal most days of the week.

Berries, especially blueberries, are super-brain foods, so include these at meals or snacks three or more days each week. Berries are a delicious addition to Overnight Oats. Use fresh, frozen or dried berries (without added sugars) to naturally sweeten foods.

Canned or dried beans are an excellent source of fiber and protein and can be used to top off salads or added to soups, chili or casseroles.

Researchers advise to start incorporating MIND diet principles into your daily diet sooner than later. The longer a person eats a diet that follows the MIND food guidelines, the less risk that person will have of developing Alzheimer’s Disease later in life.

As World Health Day approaches on April 7, make sure you’re also keeping brain health in mind.

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