Dr. Martha Clare Morris, Rush University Medical Center, created the MIND diet after more than 20 years of research into the relationship between diet and Alzheimer’s disease. Beginning in 1993, Dr. Morris and colleagues surveyed the nutritional habits of more than 10,000 people. They found a strong relationship between nutrition and healthy brain aging. Through this research, they created the MIND Diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay), a meal plan and list of foods and nutrients most important to maintaining a healthy brain. Rather than requiring people to eliminate unhealthy foods completely, the MIND diet gives a list of 10 food groups to incorporate and a list of five food groups to avoid.
Small steps can make a difference: One of the key elements of Dr. Morris’ research showed that even only partially following the MIND diet can offer real benefits. In her study, people who strictly followed the MIND diet reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 50 percent. And people who “mildly” followed the MIND guidelines could reduce their risk by 35 percent.
Changing life-long diet patterns can be difficult. Even people interested in following good nutrition may worry about the cost of healthy foods or how to prepare them. However, many followers of the MIND diet have found it to be relatively cost effective. Buying less red meat, for instance, can save money. And while salmon is relatively expensive, buying it once a week is not as difficult as some other diet plans. Knowing which foods to buy can also help shoppers find sales and budget plan in advance. Most nutritionists recommend shopping the perimeter of the grocery store, which means filling your cart with produce and fresh foods and not venturing into the processed food aisles in the center of the store.
Ten Foods to Eat for the MIND Diet
- Green, leafy vegetables: Aim for six or more servings per week. This includes kale, spinach, cooked greens and salads.
- All other vegetables: Try to eat another vegetable in addition to the green leafy vegetables at least once a day. It is best to choose non-starchy vegetables because they have a lot of nutrients with a low number of calories.
- Berries: Blueberries and strawberries are especially recommended. Blueberries have been found to have a benefit to brain health, and strawberries are believed to be linked to motor skills. All berries have anti-oxidants.
- Nuts: Try to get five servings of nuts or more each week.
- Olive oil: Use olive oil as your main cooking oil. Try to limit to 1 tablespoon per day.
- Whole grains: Folate is an important nutrient of the MIND diet. Aim for at least three servings daily. Choose whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and 100% whole-wheat bread.
- Fish: Eat fish at least once a week. It is best to choose fatty fish like salmon, sardines, trout, tuna and mackerel for their high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Beans: Include beans in at least four meals every week. This includes all beans, lentils and soybeans.
- Poultry: 2-3 times a week
Five Foods to Limit for the MIND Diet
- Butter and margarine: Try to eat less than one pat of butter per day.
- Cheese: Less than 3 oz of cheese a week. Cheese is high in saturated fat, which has a negative relationship to brain health. Try to think of cheese as an occasional treat rather than a standard component of many meals.
- Red meat: Aim for no more than three servings each week.
- Fried foods: Once per week.
- Pastries and sweets: This includes most of the processed desserts and sweets. Try to limit these to no more than three times a week.
Nutrients That Support Brain Health
Elements that have shown strong evidence of relation to brain health:
- Dietary tocopherols (Vitamin E) Items with the foods; nuts, oils, seeds, green leafy veg, whole grains
- DHA (One of the Omega 3 fatty acids) Fish once/week
- Folate (Veg, whole grains)
- Saturated Fats (Items high in saturated fats and low in unsaturated fats increase risk) Commercial products, baked goods, red meats, high fat dairy
Elements that have shown moderate evidence of influence. They have consistent evidence, but more research is needed to show strong evidence.
- Carotenoids (B-Carotene, luteine, lycopene) Foods: green leafy veg, bright colored fruit, veg
- Flavonoids Foods: Berries, tea, chocolate
- Vitamin D (Fish, dairy)
- Trans Fats Commercial products, baked goods
- Mono-saturated fat: olive oil
- Polyphenols: olive oil, red wine, tea, veg, fruit
- Vitamin E: One of the most potent antioxidants within cell membranes. It’s found in the brain and has been found to reduce oxygenated stress. Studies have shown antioxidant nutrients reduce DNA damage and mitochondrial dysfunction, neurotoxicity, loss of neurons, inflammation
- Vitamin C: Antioxidant that circulates in plasma, restores Vitamin E
- Fish and Omega-3 fatty acids. This is important to the structure of the brain. One Omega-3 rich fish meal a week is sufficient to decrease the likelihood of developing AD