The fifth installment of the series on eating patterns is about the MIND Diet. Last month, we explored the Macrobiotic Diet and discussed its holistic approach and strong reliance on plant foods, with some fish, nuts and seeds. Ranked #4 (tied with Weight Watchers) out of 41 total diets in the U.S News Best Diet Rankings, the MIND Diet is similar to the Mediterranean and DASH Diets, but focuses on foods that improve brain health and cognition.
MIND Diet: Not named simply for its impact on the brain, the MIND Diet stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, and was developed in conjunction with the National Institute on Aging in 2015. Studies show following the diet can lower your risk for getting Alzheimer’s by 35-53%, based on adherence. While avoiding dementia and Alzheimer’s completely through diet isn’t possible, it’s promising to find that diet changes can delay or diminish the effects of the aging brain.
Nutritional Considerations: The diet is based largely on the framework of the Mediterranean Diet, which includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts and olive oil. The MIND Diet simply tweaks a few of the components by emphasizing foods that have clear benefits to our brains. For example, the MIND Diet specifies eating berries twice per week, as opposed to a fruit in general, because berries are high in flavonoids that improve memory and antioxidants, which decrease inflammation. Also, leafy greens are preferred vegetables, as they are good sources of Vitamin K, lutein and folate, all beneficial for brain health. The MIND Diet allows participants a lot of freedom to design meals while adhering to weekly guidelines for consumption of certain foods. Daily intakes include three servings of grains, one salad, an additional vegetable and wine (if desired, as studies show moderate consumption of alcohol is better than none). Most days of the week, a serving of beans should be consumed, as well as a serving of nuts as a snack. Chicken and berries should be eaten twice a week, and fish at least once. Olive oil is the preferred fat for cooking, just like in the Mediterranean Diet.
Target Audience: While everyone can benefit from this diet, and it’s never too early to start eating for brain health, the studies that showed improvement in cognitive decline focused on those aged 58-98 years old. Because the diet only specifies the frequency of certain foods, there is a lot of room for participants to design their own meals based on their preferences within the framework. Having this kind of flexibility may be beneficial for some, but too open-ended for others. The ideal candidate for this diet is someone in their 40s or 50s with basic knowledge of food preparation, a desire to try a variety of foods, and who is able to carve out time each week to shop and prepare meals.
Foods to Highlight: If you aren’t already eating salmon (or other fatty fish) once a week, now is a good time to start. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in cold water fish and nuts, have been found to decrease blood levels of beta-amyloid, which is a protein that is found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s. Adding spinach or kale (or chard or collards) to salads and smoothies is an excellent way to increase your intake of dark, leafy veggies. Blueberries have the most antioxidants of all berries, and now is the time to eat them! Lastly, studies have shown that moderate intakes of coffee or tea may help brain function by boosting concentration.