MIND Diet Guide: Dissecting the Cognitive Health Promises

Check out if the MIND diet is right for you and your healthy lifestyle!

As a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and a UESCA-Certified Endurance Nutrition Coach, I spend a lot of time scrutinizing popular diets.

The MIND Diet is right up there with the Mediterranean diet in terms of being one of the best diets for health, weight management, and longevity.

In this diet guide, we will discuss what the MIND diet plan involves, its principles, the MIND diet foods to eat and foods to avoid, and potential benefits and drawbacks.

Let’s jump in!

A heart ramekin with a variety of fruits and vegetables.

What Is the MIND Diet Plan?

The MIND Diet, which stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, is essentially a hybrid between the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet.

Rather than strictly being a weight loss diet, the MIND Diet is designed to support cognitive health and overall health.

For this reason, it can be especially beneficial for older adults who want to support brain health, physical health, energy, and longevity.

The MIND Diet meal plan is a loose framework that provides ten types of foods to emphasize and five categories of foods to avoid to support your health.

The food list is designed to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods and remove the biggest offenders in terms of foods that increase inflammation.

A jar of berries.

How Does the MIND Diet Work?

It is thought that one of the key MIND diet benefits is helping prevent premature cognitive decline.

These benefits may make sense intuitively if you are familiar with the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet plans because these two popular diets have been shown to reduce the risk of various chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and metabolic syndrome.1Filippou, C. D., Tsioufis, C. P., Thomopoulos, C. G., Mihas, C. C., Dimitriadis, K. S., Sotiropoulou, L. I., Chrysochoou, C. A., Nihoyannopoulos, P. I., & Tousoulis, D. M. (2020). Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet and Blood Pressure Reduction in Adults with and without Hypertension: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Advances in Nutrition11(5), 1150–1160. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmaa041

‌The health benefits of the MIND diet meal plan (and the other two healthy eating patterns that form the foundational principles of the MIND diet) are thought to be largely attributable to the anti-inflammatory diet foods.

The MIND diet program is thought to help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress by choosing particular anti-inflammatory foods.

Green vegetables.

The anti-inflammatory benefits are not only facilitated by the MIND diet foods you can eat but also likely due to the elimination of inflammatory foods from the meal plan.

Chronic low-grade inflammation is thought to be the root cause of many chronic lifestyle diseases such as obesity, hypertension, heart disease, atherosclerosis, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.2Furman, D., Campisi, J., Verdin, E., Carrera-Bastos, P., Targ, S., Franceschi, C., Ferrucci, L., Gilroy, D. W., Fasano, A., Miller, G. W., Miller, A. H., Mantovani, A., Weyand, C. M., Barzilai, N., Goronzy, J. J., Rando, T. A., Effros, R. B., Lucia, A., Kleinstreuer, N., & Slavich, G. M. (2019). Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span. Nature Medicine25(12), 1822–1832. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-019-0675-0

‌Moreover, chronic inflammation is thought to accelerate cognitive decline and potentially increase the risk of early-onset dementia.

For this reason, the MIND diet plan may support physical longevity and preserve cognitive function by preventing a state of chronic inflammation.

Thus, rather than being a short-term weight loss diet, the MIND diet program is intended to be followed for the long term as a lifestyle eating pattern.

This isn’t to say that you can’t see impressive MIND diet weight loss results if you follow the meal plan, choose whole, natural, healthy foods, opt for reasonable portions, and control your caloric intake based on your caloric needs.

However, the ultimate purpose of the MIND diet meal plan is to support health and cognitive brain health, particularly for seniors, aging adults, or those with an inflammatory condition.

What Can You Eat On the MIND Diet Meal Plan?

One nice thing about the MIND Diet is that it’s very straightforward—there are ten foods you’re encouraged to focus on and five foods to avoid. 

The ten foods that should make up the bulk of the MIND diet recipes and general meal intake include the following:3Morris, 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 & Dementia11(9), 1015–1022. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2015.04.011

MIND Diet Guide: Dissecting the Cognitive Health Promises 1

#1: Leafy Green Vegetables

Some examples include spinach, kale, bok choy, Swiss chard, mustard greens, lettuce, watercress, arugula, and collard greens. Aim for at least six servings a week.

#2: Vegetables in General

Focus especially on non-starchy vegetables such as peppers, mushrooms, cucumbers, zucchini, asparagus, onions, artichokes, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, which should be eaten at liberty.

However, in moderation, you can also have starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, turnips, white potatoes, etc..

#3: Berries

Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, açai berries, raspberries, boysenberries, etc. Aim for at least two servings a week.

A variety of nuts.

#4: Nuts

Nuts such as almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, etc. Aim for at least 5 servings a week.

#5: Beans

Beans such as black beans, navy beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, white beans, etc. Aim for at least four servings a week.

#6: Poultry

Focus particularly on free-range and organic chicken, turkey, quail, duck, etc. Aim for at least two servings a week.

#7: Fish

Fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, mahi-mahi, trout, sardines, flounder, cod, halibut, etc. Aim for at least two servings a week.

#8: Whole Grains

Focus on grains that are 100% whole wheat, brown rice, whole oats, teff, quinoa, buckwheat, etc. Aim for at least three servings a week.

Whole grain bread.

#9: Olive Oil

Olive oil should be your main cooking oil

#10: Red wine

Up to one glass daily.

What Should You NOT Eat On the MIND Diet Meal Plan?

The five foods excluded from the MIND diet food list include the following:

  1. Butter and Margarine: Try to eat less than one tablespoon per day. Opt for olive oil instead. 
  2. Pastries and sweets such as cookies, ice cream, muffins, pies, cakes, donuts, fruit snacks, pudding, Jell-O, etc. Try to have no more than four servings per week.
  3. Cheese: Try to have less than once a week.
  4. Red meat, such as beef, pork, lamb, and all processed meat, such as sausage, bacon, deli meat, pepperoni, bologna, etc. Try to have no more than two servings per week.
  5. Fried foods: onion rings, chicken fingers, and potato chips. Try to have less than once a week.
Red wine.

Is the MIND Diet Good for Weight Loss?

When following the MIND diet plan, there are no specific serving sizes or MIND diet calories that you have to stick to.

Again, although you can use the MIND diet for weight loss, it can also be a diet to support healthy weight maintenance or even weight gain, depending on how many calories you need and/or choose to eat and your weight goals.

There are also no specific rules regarding how often you can eat.

This flexibility in meal timing allows you to make MIND diet-friendly meals and snacks and space them according to your preferences, caloric needs, lifestyle, and MIND diet recipe choices.

However, if you are trying to follow the MIND diet for weight loss, you may need to track your calories and control your portion sizes.

Just because you are eating healthy foods on the MIND diet food list does not automatically mean that you will see weight loss from the MIND diet; you have to be in a caloric deficit, which means that you are consuming fewer calories than you are eating.

That said, the lack of processed foods (empty calories) and the emphasis on whole, satiating foods on the MIND diet food list may help you stay fuller for longer while balancing blood sugar.

Beans and lentils.

What Are the MIND Diet Benefits?

Here are some of the top MIND diet benefits:

  • Flexibility may improve adherence.
  • The specific foods may decrease inflammation and support brain health. For example, rather than having all fruit, the MIND diet food list focuses only on berries, which have been found to be particularly potent for reducing inflammation. This is one of the main differences between the MIND vs DASH diet plans (the DASH diet encourages all fruit).
  • Eliminates processed foods and excess added sugar, salt, fried foods, etc., all of which have been shown to cause a variety of health problems and weight gain.
  • Low in saturated fat and salt, which can help support heart health.
  • Combines concepts of two diets that have been shown to improve health and reduce the risk of diseases.
  • May help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress which may underlie Alzheimer’s Disease.4Arjmand, G., Abbas-Zadeh, M., & Eftekhari, M. H. (2022). Effect of MIND diet intervention on cognitive performance and brain structure in healthy obese women: a randomized controlled trial. Scientific Reports12(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-04258-9 Studies suggest that the brain may be particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress, which occurs when reactive oxygen species, called free radicals, attack healthy cells. This can cause inflammation, damage to proteins and DNA, and premature aging of cells.5Sharifi-Rad, M., Anil Kumar, N. V., Zucca, P., Varoni, E. M., Dini, L., Panzarini, E., Rajkovic, J., Tsouh Fokou, P. V., Azzini, E., Peluso, I., Prakash Mishra, A., Nigam, M., El Rayess, Y., Beyrouthy, M. E., Polito, L., Iriti, M., Martins, N., Martorell, M., Docea, A. O., & Setzer, W. N. (2020). Lifestyle, Oxidative Stress, and Antioxidants: Back and Forth in the Pathophysiology of Chronic Diseases. Frontiers in Physiology11(694). https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2020.00694

Overall, the MIND diet is a sustainable, well-balanced, healthy eating plan for most people that may support cognitive health.

However, if you have concerns about portion sizes and weight loss, you may need more structure than just trying to follow the MIND diet program.

Additionally, if you are sensitive to carbohydrates, you may need to choose another day or work with a nutritionist to tailor the MIND diet meal plan you follow to support your needs.

Olive oil.

References

  • 1
    Filippou, C. D., Tsioufis, C. P., Thomopoulos, C. G., Mihas, C. C., Dimitriadis, K. S., Sotiropoulou, L. I., Chrysochoou, C. A., Nihoyannopoulos, P. I., & Tousoulis, D. M. (2020). Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet and Blood Pressure Reduction in Adults with and without Hypertension: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Advances in Nutrition11(5), 1150–1160. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmaa041
  • 2
    Furman, D., Campisi, J., Verdin, E., Carrera-Bastos, P., Targ, S., Franceschi, C., Ferrucci, L., Gilroy, D. W., Fasano, A., Miller, G. W., Miller, A. H., Mantovani, A., Weyand, C. M., Barzilai, N., Goronzy, J. J., Rando, T. A., Effros, R. B., Lucia, A., Kleinstreuer, N., & Slavich, G. M. (2019). Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span. Nature Medicine25(12), 1822–1832. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-019-0675-0
  • 3
    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 & Dementia11(9), 1015–1022. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2015.04.011
  • 4
    Arjmand, G., Abbas-Zadeh, M., & Eftekhari, M. H. (2022). Effect of MIND diet intervention on cognitive performance and brain structure in healthy obese women: a randomized controlled trial. Scientific Reports12(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-04258-9
  • 5
    Sharifi-Rad, M., Anil Kumar, N. V., Zucca, P., Varoni, E. M., Dini, L., Panzarini, E., Rajkovic, J., Tsouh Fokou, P. V., Azzini, E., Peluso, I., Prakash Mishra, A., Nigam, M., El Rayess, Y., Beyrouthy, M. E., Polito, L., Iriti, M., Martins, N., Martorell, M., Docea, A. O., & Setzer, W. N. (2020). Lifestyle, Oxidative Stress, and Antioxidants: Back and Forth in the Pathophysiology of Chronic Diseases. Frontiers in Physiology11(694). https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2020.00694
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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