Can the MIND Diet Preserve Your Brain Health?

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Protecting your brain health is crucial to your overall health and wellbeing. And like the rest of your body, your brain needs to be nourished to function at its best. One of the ways to support your brain health is with the MIND diet. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.

Let’s delve deeper into the MIND diet, what to eat on this eating plan and what the research says about its key benefits for brain health and how it may help with Alzheimer’s disease — the most common type of dementia.

What Is the MIND Diet?

The MIND diet combines aspects of the Mediterranean Diet and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plans. The plan was developed by nutrition researcher Doctor Martha Clare and her Rush University Medical Center colleagues.

More than 20 years of research into what foods help lower the risk for cognitive (mental or brain function) decline have led to this hybrid approach. The brain-healthy eating plan emphasizes whole plant-based foods while limiting added sugars and foods high in saturated fats. 

It provides a wealth of nutrients known to curb inflammation within your body. They also protect your body and brain cells from damage with the help of antioxidants. These natural molecules fight free radicals that harm your cells and cause disease. 

All said, the MIND diet is rich in nutrients that work together to support your brain health. Examples of these brain-healthy nutrients include:

  • Flavonoids
  • Folate
  • Lutein-zeaxanthin
  • Vitamin E

MIND Diet vs. Mediterranean and DASH Diets

All 3 approaches can help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, especially if you follow them closely. But studies have shown that even moderate adherence to the MIND way of eating can lessen your risk for this dementia type.

DASH Diet

This eating plan is a lifestyle approach for lowering high blood pressure and your risk of heart disease. It was developed by the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and endorsed by the American Heart Association.

The plan includes plenty of plant-based foods. But it limits sodium (salt), cholesterol and saturated and total fat. 

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet has ample research to support its health benefits. These include guarding your heart and brain health and helping with weight loss.

The approach was inspired by the healthy eating habits of people living near the Mediterranean Sea. People from these regions have eaten this way for ages. But many people around the world now use the popular eating plan to help them get and stay healthy.

Olive oil is a staple food of this approach. It also encourages you to eat more:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Legumes (e.g., beans, lentils and peas)
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains

It also specifies eating moderate amounts of these foods on a routine basis:

  • Eggs
  • Fermented dairy products (e.g., yogurt and cheese)
  • Fish and seafood
  • Poultry
  • Some alcohol, namely red wine, with meals

And, it limits:

  • Added sugars
  • Red and processed meats
  • Refined grains

How the MIND Diet Differs From Medi and DASH

Like its predecessors, the MIND diet diverts your focus away from refined and processed foods and toward whole and plant-based foods.

But it doesn’t give carte blanche to eat just any or as many plant-based foods as you’d like. For instance, it targets berries instead of the full spectrum of fruits. 

It also downplays the role of dairy products and certain starchy vegetables such as potatoes. And, it entails eating just 1 serving of fish a week. 

How Does the MIND Diet Work?

The MIND diet aims to protect your brain from the damage inflicted by oxidative stress. This form of stress describes an imbalance between harmful free radicals and protective antioxidants in your body and brain.

Free radicals scavenge your brain cells, damaging their many fat molecules and causing brain tissue to become inflamed. Oxidative stress can also alter beta-amyloid — these are protein deposits called plaques thought to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease.

What Are the Benefits of the MIND Diet?

It can take decades before your risk of Alzheimer’s turns into dementia symptoms you live with daily. Taking action now can lower your risk of the disease, slow down symptom progress and help you live a longer and higher quality of life.

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That being said, the MIND diet can help preserve your brain health for as long as possible. It also bolsters your immune system and lowers your risk of health conditions tied to Alzheimer’s disease.

Along with heart disease and high blood pressure, these include health conditions such as:

Foods to Eat on the MIND Diet

The MIND diet recommends these brain-healthy foods:

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  • Green leafy veggies = 1+ servings daily (1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked)
  • Other veggies = 1 + servings daily (1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked)
  • Nuts = 5 ounces weekly (1 serving = 1 ounce)
  • Berries = 5+ servings weekly (1 serving = ½ cup)
  • Beans/legumes = 3+ servings weekly (1 serving = ½ cup)
  • Whole grains = 3 servings daily (½ cup or 1 bread slice)
  • Fish = 1 serving weekly (1 serving = 3 to 5 ounces)
  • Poultry (skinless white meat preferred) = 2+ servings weekly (1 serving = 3 to 5 ounces) 
  • Extra virgin (unrefined) olive oil = 2 tablespoons daily

This plan also allows you to drink moderate amounts of alcohol — preferably red wine. But discuss this option with your doctor first, and decide together whether it’s a safe and healthy option for you based on your health status.

In general and if you’re of legal drinking age, you can drink up to 2 standard drinks daily if you’re an adult male or 1 standard drink daily if you’re an adult female. A standard drink equals 14 grams or 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol.

This equates to:

  • 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor = 1.5 ounces
  • Wine (12% alcohol content) = 5 ounces
  • Malt liquor (7% alcohol content) = 8 ounces
  • Beer (5% alcohol content) = 12 ounces

Foods to Limit or Avoid on the MIND Diet

These include:

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  • Red or processed meats = no more than 3 servings weekly (1 serving = 3 to 5 ounces)
  • Butter or margarine = no more than 1 tablespoon daily
  • Full-fat cheese = no more than 2 ounces weekly
  • Pastries and other sweets = no more than 4 servings weekly
  • Fried and fast foods = no more than 1 serving as part of 1 meal weekly

Does Research Support the MIND Diet?

Research to date has shown that the MIND diet may promote healthy brain aging, especially if you stick closely to the plan. In particular, it may:

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  • Improve how your brain performs
  • Lessen cognitive decline
  • Lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia
  • Prolong your life, especially if you already have dementia

These findings are based mainly on observational studies. We need large-scale, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to verify these findings. 

These RCTs are considered the gold standard for confirming cause-and-effect relationships. One such RCT is underway.