Do you find yourself confused by the endless promotion of weight loss strategies and diet plans? In this series, we look at some popular diets — and review the research that underpins them.
What is this?
The Mediterranean-DASH nutritional intervention to delay neurodegeneration, or the MIND diet, targets aging brain health. Dementia is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, leading many people to seek ways to prevent cognitive decline. In 2015, Dr. Martha Claire Morris and colleagues at Rush University Medical Center and Harvard Chan School of Public Health published two papers introducing the MIND diet. [1,2] Both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet have already been linked to maintaining cognitive function, presumably through their protective effects against cardiovascular disease, which in turn keeps the brain healthy.
The research team followed a group of older adults for up to 10 years from the Rush Memory and Aging Project (MAP), a study of a population free of dementia at the time of enrollment. They are recruited from more than 40 retirement communities and large public housing units in the Chicago area. Over 1,000 participants filled out annual nutritional questionnaires for nine years and underwent two cognitive assessments. The MIND diet score was developed to identify foods and nutrients, along with daily serving sizes, related to protection against dementia and cognitive decline. The results of the study yielded fifteen nutritional components that were rated either as “brain healthy” or as unhealthy. Participants with the highest scores on the MIND diet had a much slower rate of cognitive decline compared to those with the lowest scores.  The MIND diet’s effects on cognition showed greater effects than either the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet alone.
How it works
The purpose of the research was to see if the MIND diet, which is based in part on the Mediterranean diet and DASH, could directly prevent the onset of dementia or slow its progression. The three diets highlight plant foods and limit the intake of animal foods and saturated fats. The Mind Diet recommends including “brain-healthy” foods, and five unhealthy foods to limit your intake.
The healthy items the MIND diet guidelines suggest include:
Unhealthy items that are high in saturated and trans fats include:
- Less than 5 servings per week of pastries and sweets
- Less than 4 servings per week of red meat (including beef, pork, lamb and products made with these meats)
- Less than one serving per week of cheese and fried foods
- Less than 1 tablespoon per day of butter/margarine
meal plan template
This typical meal plan consists of approximately 2,000 calories, which is the recommended amount for the average person. If you have higher calorie needs, you can add an additional snack or two; If you have lower calorie needs, you can remove the snack. If you have more specific nutritional needs or would like help making additional meal plans, consult a registered dietitian.
breakfast: 1 cup cooked oats mixed with 2 tablespoons almonds, 12 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, sprinkled with cinnamon
Snack: 1 medium orange
- Beans and Rice – In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add and saute chopped onion, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp garlic powder until onion is softened. Mix together 1 cup of canned beans, drained and rinsed. Serve the bean mixture over a cup of cooked brown rice.
- 2 cups salad (eg, mixed greens, cucumber, bell pepper) with dressing (mix 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon black pepper)
Snack: cup unsalted mixed nuts
- 3 ounces of brushed salmon with the same salad dressing used for lunch
- 1 cup steamed cauliflower
- 1 whole grain roll dipped in 1 tablespoon olive oil
Wine was included as one of the original 15 food ingredients in the MIND diet score, with a moderate amount found to be associated with cognitive health.  However, in Mind’s subsequent experiments it was omitted for “safety” reasons.  The effect of alcohol on an individual is complex, so comprehensive recommendations about alcohol cannot be made. Based on an individual’s unique personal and family history, alcohol presents each person with a different set of benefits and risks. Whether or not to include alcohol is a personal decision that should be discussed with your healthcare provider. For more information, read Alcohol: Balancing the Risks and Benefits.
Search so far
The MIND diet contains foods rich in certain vitamins, carotenoids, and flavonoids that are believed to protect the brain by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. The researchers found that the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease was 53% lower for those with the highest MIND scores. Even those participants with moderate MIND scores showed a 35% lower rate compared to those with lowest MIND scores.  The results did not change even after adjusting for dementia-related factors including healthy lifestyle behaviors, cardiovascular-related conditions (such as high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes), depression and obesity, supporting the conclusion that the MIND diet is linked. Preserving cognitive function.
Although the goal of the MIND diet was on brain health, it may also benefit heart health, diabetes, and certain types of cancer because it includes components of the Mediterranean diet and DASH, which have been shown to reduce the risk of these diseases.
Additional published studies and ongoing trials review the potential benefits of the MIND diet:
- A higher MIND diet score as evidenced by a higher intake of foods in the MIND diet was associated with better cognitive functions and slower cognitive decline in a group of adults 65 and older, even when accounting for those with Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. 
- When the MIND diet’s highest scores were compared to the lowest in a group of participants with a history of stroke, those with the highest scores had a slower rate of cognitive decline after nearly 6 years of follow-up. 
- Researchers who followed a group of Puerto Rican adults ages 45 to 75 living in Boston, Massachusetts, after 8 years found that those with the highest MIND diet scores had better cognitive function than those with the lowest scores. They also noted that greater poverty and less education were closely associated with lower MIND diet scores and lower cognitive function. 
- Researchers who followed a group of Australian adults aged 60 to 64 for 12 years found that the group with the highest MIND diet scores had 53% lower odds of developing cognitive impairment than those with the lowest scores. 
- Researchers following 2,092 participants from the Framingham Heart Study found that higher MIND diet scores were associated with better cognitive function and memory, and a greater overall brain volume. However, the diet was not associated with slower rates of cognitive decline. 
- A prospective cohort study of more than 16,000 women aged 70 and over from the Nurses’ Health Study found that long-term adherence to the MIND diet was moderately associated with higher memory scores later in life. 
- A three-year, randomized, multicenter trial funded by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health examines the effects of a MIND diet intervention on cognitive decline.  Followed 604 older participants to compare the effects of the MIND diet with moderate calorie restriction or a moderate diet with mild calorie restriction on cognitive function. Various biochemical markers of dementia and inflammation will be measured in all participants.
- a Clinical trial from John’s Hopkins University to compare the effects of the modified Atkins diet with the MIND diet on cognition and levels of specific genes related to Alzheimer’s disease.
- The Mind Diet is flexible in that it does not include strict meal plans. However, this also means that people will need to create their own meal plans and recipes based on the foods recommended in the MIND diet. This can be difficult for those who do not cook. Those who eat out frequently may need to spend some time reviewing restaurant menus.
- Although a diet plan specifies daily and weekly amounts of foods to include and not to include, it does not limit the diet to food intake. Just these foods. It also does not provide meal plans or emphasize portion sizes or exercises.
The MIND diet can be a healthy eating plan that includes Mediterranean and DASH dietary patterns, both of which have suggested benefits in preventing and improving cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and supporting healthy aging. When used in conjunction with the Balanced Dishes Guide, the diet may also promote healthy weight loss if desired. More research needs to be done to expand the MIND studies into other populations, and clinical trials are underway to demonstrate that the MIND diet reduces the cognitive decline that occurs with aging.
- Morris MC, Tangni CC, Wang Wei, Bags FM, Barnes LL, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. The MIND diet slows cognitive decline with age. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. 2015 Sep 1; 11(9): 1015-22.
- Morris MC, Tangni CC, Wang Wei, Bags FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. The MIND diet is associated with a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. 2015 Sep 1; 11(9): 1007-14.
- Dhana K, James BD, Agarwal P, Aggarwal NT, Cherian LJ, Leurgans SE, Barnes LL, Bennett DA, Schneider JA. The MIND diet, common brain diseases, and cognition in older adults living in the community. Alzheimer’s Disease Journal. 2021 Jan 1; 83 (2): 683-92.
- Cherian L, Wang Y, Fakuda K, Leurgans S, Aggarwal N, Morris M. Meditin Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) Diet slows cognitive decline after stroke. Alzheimer’s Prevention Journal. 2019 October; 6 (4): 267-73.
- Boumenna T, Scott TM, Lee JS, Zhang X, Kriebel D, Tucker KL, Palacios N. MIND Diet and cognitive function in older adults in Puerto Rico. Gerontology Journals: Series A. 2022 March; 77 (3): 605-13.
- Hosking D, Eramogola R, Sherpoen N, Ansty KJ. Mind and not the Mediterranean diet related to the 12-year incidence of cognitive impairment in an Australian longitudinal cohort study. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. 2019 April 1; 15 (4): 581-9.
- Milo van Lint D, O’Donnell A, Besser S, Vasan RS, Decarli CS, Scarmis N, Wagner M, Jack BF, Seshadri S, Himali GG, Bassey MB. Adherence to the mind diet and cognitive performance in the Framingham Heart Study. Alzheimer’s Disease Journal. 2021 Jan 1; 82 (2): 827-39.
- Berendsen AM, Kang JH, Feskens EJ, de Groot CP, Grodstein F, van de Rest O. Association of long-term adherence to the Mind’s Diet with cognitive function and cognitive decline in American women. Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging. 2018 February; 22 (2): 222-9. Disclosure: Grodstein reports grants from the International Nut Council, other from the California Walnut Council, outside the work submitted.
- Liu X, Morris MC, Dhana K, Ventrelle J, Johnson K, Bishop L, Hollings CS, Boulin A, Laranjo N, Stubbs BJ, Reilly X. The Mediterranean-DASH Study of Neuronal Delay (MIND): Rationale, Design and Baseline Characteristics of an Experiment Randomized controlled trial of the MIND diet on cognitive decline. Contemporary clinical trials. 2021 Mar 1; 102: 106270. Disclosure: Several companies have generously donated mixed nuts (International Foundation for Nutrition Research and Nutrition Research), peanut butter (Peanut Institute), extra virgin olive oil (Innoliva-ADM Capital Europe LLP) and berries (US Highbush Blueberry Council). These items will be distributed to participants who are randomly selected to the MIND diet arm.
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