The Mind Diet: It Could Help Protect Your Brain From Alzheimer’s

Perhaps you have heard that a new diet called MIND is creating some buzz on the Internet and elsewhere. If so, you may be wondering, “Why all the excitement over yet another diet?” While the jury is still out, so to speak, the fanfare so far seems well-deserved. The excitement is because the MIND Diet, which is grounded in research, appears to significantly lower the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

MIND stands for “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.” As its name implies, the MIND Diet is a blend of two heart-healthy and well-respected diets: the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). While the MIND Diet draws heavily from both of these diets, experts say MIND is actually more of a lifestyle than a “diet.” MIND is not concerned with calories. Instead, it focuses on eating brain-healthy foods while also avoiding brain-unhealthy ones. According to the research done to date, MIND is so effective that it’s not even necessary to follow it rigidly.

MIND was developed by Martha Clare Morris, a researcher at Rush University Medical Center. For four and a half years, Morris and her team tracked the food choices of 923 older adults in the Chicago area. Of the 923 people, 144 developed Alzheimer’s disease. The interesting thing was, even those who had only made slight changes to their diets turned out to be less at risk for Alzheimer’s. The researchers determined that MIND lowered the risk of Alzheimer’s by about 35% for those who followed the diet only moderately, while lowering risk as much as a whopping 53% for those who stuck strictly to the diet.

While more research is needed, the results so far are certainly encouraging. There’s no “MIND Cookbook” yet, but you can hardly go wrong by concentrating on the same10 brain-healthy food groups used in the research studies:

(1) Green leafy vegetables

(2) All other vegetables

(3) Nuts

(4) Berries

(5) Beans

(6) Whole grains

(7) Fish

(8) Poultry

(9) Olive oil

(10) Red wine

While concentrating on these ten brain-healthy food groups, it’s very important to also severely limit the five brain-unhealthy food groups:

(1) Red meats

(2) Butter and stick margarine

(3) Cheeses

(4) Pastries and sweets

(5) fried foods and fast food

Some experts think MIND works because its recommended combination of foods—lean protein, omega 3s, antioxidants, fiber, with little added sugar, saturated fat, or trans fat—reduces brain inflammation. Brain inflammation is thought to speed up the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

The MIND Diet is easy to adopt. Within the healthy food parameters of MIND, people can eat whatever they like. There is no calorie counting, and there are no rules about when to eat or what to snack on. (Of course, it’s still important to eat in moderation, so as not to gain weight; “healthy” doesn’t mean “calorie-free”!) Though MIND is very easy to follow, it does cost a bit more to eat these healthier foods. For example, berries, fresh produce, and high-quality olive oil typically cost more than processed and sugar-laden foods.

If you’d like to move your personal food choices in the direction of the MIND diet, here are a few tips from the experts:

  • Cook mainly with olive oil.
  • Every day, eat three or more servings of whole grains, a leafy salad, and a vegetable.
  • Snack on nuts.
  • Eat a half-cup of beans three or four times a week.
  • Eat poultry and a half-cup of berries at least twice a week.
  • Eat fish at least once a week.
  • Eat red meat three or less times a week.
  • Go easy on sweets and pastries.
  • Limit butter, margarine, cheese, fried foods, and fast food to just one serving a week.
  • The wine must be red and moderation is the key. Women are limited to 5 ounces a day; men may have no more than 10 ounces. Exceeding those limits is counter-productive, raising blood sugar and increasing inflammation, which can damage the tiny blood vessels in the brain.