Submitted By Amy Sercel MS RD CD
Edited By Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD
Are you looking for a diet that will be good for your brain and heart, could help you lose weight, and is easy? Look no farther! The US News and World Report recently rated the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet the easiest diet to follow and the second best overall diet after the DASH diet. The MIND diet was originally designed to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, but has also been rated well for heart health, weight loss, and diabetes.2,3
The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets. While each of those diets has been shown to keep your mind healthy as you age, neither was specifically intended to prevent dementia. Enter the MIND diet, which pulls together certain aspects of each diet to form one meal plan especially designed to keep your brain healthy. One study found that people who followed the MIND diet more strictly scored the same as someone 7 ½ years younger than them on cognitive function tests.4
The MIND diet focuses specifically on foods and nutrients known to decrease inflammation and slow the loss of brain cells.4,5 Some of the foods it highlights are high in Vitamin E and the essential fatty acid DHA, which are both antioxidants known to protect the brain. The diet is ultimately designed to help you shift towards eating more unsaturated fats and less saturated and trans fat.5
If you’re interested in following the MIND diet, its recommendations are straightforward. They are based on a 2000 calorie meal plan, so if your energy needs are higher or lower, speak to a registered dietitian who can adjust your serving needs. According to the meal plan, you should eat: 1, 4
- Three servings of whole grains per day. One serving of grains would be a slice of bread, a cup of dry cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice, pasta, or hot cereal. Eat oatmeal for breakfast and a sandwich on whole wheat bread for lunch and you’ve met this recommendation!
- Six servings of leafy green vegetables per week. This means nearly every day, aim to include two cups of spinach, kale, dark green lettuce, cabbage, or broccoli in your diet. Try a salad as an appetizer for dinner!
- At least one serving of other vegetables per day. A serving of vegetables is about 1 cup. Adding veggies to your sandwich, snacking on hummus and carrots, or pureeing vegetables to add to a soup or sauce are all great ways to do this.
- At least two servings of berries per week. Unlike the DASH or Mediterranean diets, the MIND diet singles out blueberries for their antioxidant properties. A serving of fresh fruit is 1 cup.
- One serving of fish and two servings of poultry per week. A serving of meat, fish, or poultry is 3 ounces (about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand).
- Three servings of beans per week. One-quarter cup of cooked beans is considered equal to 1 ounce of meat, so one serving of beans is about ¾ cup of cooked beans. Add beans to a salad, or use them to replace meat in a taco or wrap.
- Five servings of nuts per week. One serving of nuts weighs ½-ounce – if you’re eating almonds, this equates to about 11 almonds. Nuts are high in calories because of the unsaturated fat they contain, so it’s important not to go overboard when you snack on them!
- One glass of wine per day. The calories in wine, and any alcoholic beverage, can add up quickly! If you choose to follow this recommendation, make sure you limit yourself to one 5-fluid ounce glass, or about ½ cup, each night, and that you aren’t eating more calories than you need to maintain a healthy weight each day.
Like all diets, the MIND diet also suggests that you limit some foods:4
- Eat less than four servings of red meat per week.
- Eat a 1 ½-ounce serving of cheese less than once a week.
- Eat fried or fast food less than once per week. As a rule, the less fried and fast food you eat, the better. A cheeseburger with large fries and a soda contains over 1000 calories, so it will be hard to stay within your calorie limit on any day you eat fast food.6 If you do go out for fast food, stick with a quarter-pound hamburger or a grilled chicken sandwich, a small order of fries, and water instead of soda.
- Pastries or other sweets should be enjoyed less than five times per week. As with fast food, when eating sweets, the fewer you eat, the better. Since most desserts come in huge servings, you could try splitting one with a friend! If you do want a sweet treat, eat ¼ cup of ice cream, two 2-inch cookies, or a ½-inch wide slice of cake.7
- Use less than one tablespoon of butter each day. Use olive oil instead, but make sure to limit your overall intake to about 5-7 teaspoons per day.8
The MIND diet was rated the easiest diet to follow because these recommendations are so flexible. You can still enjoy sweets, fast foods, and red meats, but less often and in smaller portions than with the standard American diet. Even better, you don’t have to follow the diet strictly to get some benefit from it! Researchers found that even people who had “moderate” adherence to the diet lowered their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 35% compared to those who did not follow the diet at all.2,4 This factor really separates the MIND diet from the Mediterranean and DASH diets; to get significant health benefits from those diets, it looks like you have to follow them pretty carefully.4
If you’re in the mindset of trying the MIND diet, start out by making a few changes at a time. Just remember not to go overboard with some of the higher-calorie recommendations, such as adding nuts and wine to your diet. Having a good idea of the number of calories you need to maintain a healthy weight and the number of calories you eat every day will allow you to plan a nutritious diet that incorporates some of the MIND diet’s suggestions without leading to weight gain. In the end, it could be a great step for maintaining your brain, heart, and overall health!
- Miller JT. The New MIND Diet May Help Prevent Alzheimer’s. The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-t-miller/the-new-mind-diet-may-hel_b_10435866.html. Published 52:14 400AD. Accessed August 25, 2016.
- MIND diet repeatedly ranked among best: Included seven times in U.S. News & World Report’s 2016 “Best Diets.” ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160105134102.htm. Accessed August 22, 2016.
- MIND Diet: What To Know | US News Best Diets. http://health.usnews.com/best-diet/mind-diet. Accessed August 22, 2016.
- Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers Dement J Alzheimers Assoc. 2015;11(9):1007-1014. doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2014.11.009.
- Food for Thought: The MIND Diet — Fighting Dementia With Food – Today’s Dietitian Magazine. http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/090115p28.shtml. Accessed August 22, 2016.
- Urban LE, Roberts SB, Fierstein JL, Gary CE, Lichtenstein AH. Temporal Trends in Fast-Food Restaurant Energy, Sodium, Saturated Fat, and Trans Fat Content, United States, 1996–2013. Prev Chronic Dis. 2014;11. doi:10.5888/pcd11.140202.
- Authority U of WH and C. Sweets and Desserts. UW Health. http://www.uwhealth.org/living-with-diabetes/sweets-and-desserts/10208. Accessed September 9, 2016.
- All about Oils. Choose MyPlate. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/oils. Published February 24, 2015. Accessed August 30, 2016.