This article was written by one of The Food Medic team; registered dietitian Maeve Hanan
What is the MIND Diet?
The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet was developed to improve brain function and reduce the risk of diseases related to cognitive health like dementia.
This relatively new diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.
The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional eating habits of those living in the Mediterranean region, due to the benefits associated with this way of eating such as improved heart, metabolic and cognitive health as well as a lower risk of early death (1). This involves a good intake of fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, olive oil and fish, and a small daily intake of wine.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet was created to treat high blood pressure. This is similar to the Mediterranean diet, but encourages less healthy fats than the Mediterranean diet and specifically emphasises reducing salt intake.
The MIND diet involves eating more of the following brain-healthy foods (2):
- green leafy vegetables and all other vegetables – including a salad and at least one other vegetable each day
- berries – at least 2 servings per week
- beans – a serving every other day
- nuts – as a snack most days
- whole grains – at least 3 servings per day
- fish – at least 1 serving per week
- poultry – at least 2 servings per week
- olive oil – used as the main cooking oil
- wine – 1 glass per day
It also discourages the following 5 foods (3):
- red meat
- butter and margarine
- pastries and sweets
- fried or fast foods
Is the MIND diet evidence-based?
The MIND diet was developed based on research showing that the DASH and Mediterranean diets were associated with improved cognitive health (3, 4).
The earliest studies into this diet from 2015 found a significant reduction in the rate of cognitive decline in those following the MIND diet (4, 5). For example, Morris et al. (2015) found a 53% lower risk of Alzheimer disease in those with the highest MIND diet scores (5).
Similarly, a study by the same research team that year found cognition scores of those who followed this diet most closely was 7.5 years younger than those who followed it least closely (6).
More recently, a systematic review from 2021 examined 13 eligible studies related to the link between MIND diet and cognitive performance in older adults (6). These were mainly cohort studies that followed participants over time and compared outcomes, only one of the studies that met the criteria used the gold-standard randomised control trial (RCT) study design. This review found that following the MIND diet was associated with improvements in certain areas of cognitive function, such as memory, attention, learning scores and reduced cognitive decline. 78% of the studies found improvements associated with the diet and cognitive function in older adults specifically. Interestingly, the MIND diet was found to be better for cognitive health than other high-plant diets such as the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet and the Nordic diet and a flexitarian-style diet.
How does the MIND diet impact brain health?
Suggested reasons why the MIND diet leads to cognitive improvements include (7):
- the antioxidants in the MIND diet may help with reducing oxidative stress in the brain (i.e. a better balance between antioxidants and free radicals)
- reducing inflammation in the brain
- changes to brain structure
- possible reductions in types of proteins that can damage brain cells called beta-amyloid proteins
- maintaining a healthy blood brain barrier – which is an important border that protects the brain from harmful substances in the blood and provides nutrients to brain tissue
Considerations to bear in MIND
Although there is promising, good quality research emerging about this diet, this is still relatively recent and is currently mainly observational which means that a direct ‘cause and effect’ link can’t be assumed (7).
A lot of the research has also studied different types of cognitive performance and used questionnaire-based tools to assess dietary intake and cognitive performance which can lead to issues with accuracy as well.
Although this diet isn’t very restrictive, it could include some unnecessary restrictions. For example, some of the foods that are discouraged on this diet have been seen in other research to be beneficial for cognition such as cheese and certain types of red meat like lamb (8, 9).
Therefore ongoing high-quality research is needed into the possible impact and mechanism of the MIND diet, including more RCTs.
The MIND diet promotes a number of brain-boosting foods while discouraging foods that may be less healthy for the brain.
There are a lot of similarities between this diet and other diets that are linked with improved brain and overall health, like the Mediterranean, DASH and Nordic diets.
A number of studies have found that this diet may improve brain health and cognition as we age. But as this is still quite a new area of research, more studies are needed to continue to investigate this diet.
- Schwingshackl, L., Morze, J., & Hoffmann, G. (2020). Mediterranean diet and health status: Active ingredients and pharmacological mechanisms. British journal of pharmacology, 177(6), 1241-1257. [accessed June 2022 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31243760/]
- Marcason, W. (2015). What are the components to the MIND diet?. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 115(10), 1744-1744. [accessed June 2022 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26407649/]
- Martínez-Lapiscina, E. H., Clavero, P., Toledo, E., Estruch, R., Salas-Salvadó, J., San Julián, B., … & Martinez-Gonzalez, M. Á. (2013). Mediterranean diet improves cognition: the PREDIMED-NAVARRA randomised trial. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 84(12), 1318-1325. [accessed June 2022 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23670794/]
- Smith, P. J., Blumenthal, J. A., Babyak, M. A., Craighead, L., Welsh-Bohmer, K. A., Browndyke, J. N., … & Sherwood, A. (2010). Effects of the dietary approaches to stop hypertension diet, exercise, and caloric restriction on neurocognition in overweight adults with high blood pressure. Hypertension, 55(6), 1331-1338. [accessed June 2022 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20305128/]
- Morris, M. C., Tangney, C. C., Wang, Y., Sacks, F. M., Bennett, D. A., & Aggarwal, N. T. (2015). MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 11(9), 1007-1014. [accessed June 2022 via: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4532650/]
- Morris, M. C., Tangney, C. C., Wang, Y., Sacks, F. M., Barnes, L. L., Bennett, D. A., & Aggarwal, N. T. (2015). MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimer’s & dementia, 11(9), 1015-1022. [accessed June 2022 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26086182/]
- Kheirouri, S., & Alizadeh, M. (2021). MIND diet and cognitive performance in older adults: a systematic review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 1-19. [accessed June 2022 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33989093/]
- Klinedinst, B. S., Le, S. T., Larsen, B., Pappas, C., Hoth, N. J., Pollpeter, A., … & Willette, A. A. (2020). Genetic Factors of Alzheimer’s Disease Modulate How Diet is Associated with Long-Term Cognitive Trajectories: A UK Biobank Study. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 78(3), 1245-1257. [accessed June 2022 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33252089/]
- Tessier, A. J., Presse, N., Rahme, E., Ferland, G., Bherer, L., & Chevalier, S. (2021). Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese Intake Is Positively Associated With Cognitive Executive Functions in Older Adults of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, 76(12), 2223-2231. [accessed June 2022 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34115853/]