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Boosting Brain Health with the MIND Diet: A Comprehensive Guide

What is the MIND Diet?

The term MIND in this diet stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. As the name suggests, the MIND diet focuses on reducing dementia and preventing the decline in brain health that happens in many people as they get older. The diet combines some aspects of the two very popular diets, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Many experts believe that the DASH and Mediterranean diets are two of the healthiest diets around, and many studies have shown the many benefits these diets offer, including reducing blood pressure, reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and many other conditions. (1,2,3,4)

By taking some of the best aspects of these two diets, researchers wanted to come up with a diet that was designed specially to boost brain function and prevent the onset of dementia. To achieve this, they combined foods from both the DASH and Mediterranean diets that have been found to benefit brain health. For example, both these diets recommend including a lot of fruit in your meals. While fruit intake has not been linked to an improvement in brain function, but the intake of berries has been found to boost your brain function. (5,6,7,8)

Based on these combinations, the MIND diet encourages people to eat berries but not on the overall consumption of fruit in general. At present, there are no pre-set guidelines on how you should follow the MIND diet. Instead, you can just eat more of the ten recommended foods that the diet encourages while cutting back on five foods that it recommends to restrict.

What Foods to Consume on the MIND Diet?

Here are the ten foods that the MIND diet encourages you to have:

  • Berries: According to the MIND diet guidelines, you should have berries at least twice a week. Berries include blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries, which all have potent antioxidant benefits. (9,10)
  • Green, leafy vegetables: You should include at least six or more servings of green leafy vegetables every week. This should ideally include spinach, kale, salads, and cooked greens.
  • Other vegetables: Try to consume other vegetables along with green leafy vegetables as well at least once a day. It is recommended to select non-starchy vegetables since they provide a lot more nutrients and are low in calories.
  • Olive oil: The MIND diet recommends that you switch to using olive oil as your primary cooking oil. There are many benefits of olive oil, and it is also a staple ingredient in Mediterranean diets. (11,12)
  • Whole grains: You should ideally be taking at least three servings of whole grains every day. You can choose from whole grains like quinoa, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, and even 100% whole wheat bread.
  • Nuts: Try to include at least five or more servings of nuts every week. The makers of the MIND diet did not specify what types of nuts are best to consume, but the ideal thing to do is to include a variety of nuts to get the maximum variety of nutrients. (13,14)
  • Fish: You should consume fish at least once a week. You should ideally opt for having fatty fish like salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, and mackerel since they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. (15,16)
  • Poultry: Try to include chicken or turkey in your diet at least twice a week. However, try to avoid having fried chicken, as that is discouraged while you are on the MIND diet.
  • Beans: Include beans in at least four meals a week. You can have all types of beans, soybeans, and even lentils.
  • Wine: You should not have more than one glass of wine per day. The MIND diet says that both red and white wine will benefit your brain. It is good to note that there has been a lot of interest in the compound known as resveratrol which is found in red wine, and recent research has shown that it has many benefits for humans. (17,18,19)

What Foods to Avoid on the MIND Diet?

You should ideally avoid or at least limit the intake of the following five foods while you are on the MIND diet:

  • Red meat: You should not be having more than three servings of red meat in a week. This includes all lamb, pork, beef, and other products made from these meats.
  • Fried food: The MIND diet strictly discourages the intake of fried food, especially junk food, from fast-food restaurants. You should restrict the consumption of all fried food to no more than once a week.
  • Cheese: According to the MIND diet, you should not eat cheese more than once in a week.
  • Margarine and butter: Try to limit the intake of butter and margarine to no more than one tablespoon (around 14 grams) in a day. Instead of butter and margarine, opt for using olive oil as your main cooking fat, and even consider dipping your bread in olive oil infused with herbs.
  • Sweets and pastries: This category also includes most of processed snack foods and desserts that you can think of, including cookies, brownies, ice cream, cakes, doughnuts, candies, etc. You should restrict the intake of these foods to no more than four times a week.

Experts on the MIND diet encourage you to restrict the consumption of these five food groups because they are high in trans fats and saturated fats. Studies have shown that trans fats are very much linked with causing all types of diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease, amongst others. However, there is still a debate raging on the health effects of saturated fats in the nutrition world. (20,21,22)

Though the research on heart disease and its link with high consumption of saturated fats remains inconclusive and hotly debated, observational studies in humans, as well as animal studies, have shown that consuming excessive levels of saturated fats is linked with poor brain health. (23)

Role of the MIND Diet in Reducing Inflammation and Oxidative Stress

Current research on the MIND diet has not exactly shown how the diet works, but the scientists who have designed the diet believe that the MIND diet works in reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress develops when there are unstable molecules in the body, known as free radicals. When these accumulate in large amounts inside the body, they can cause damage to the cells. Your brain is especially susceptible to this kind of damage. (24,25)

Meanwhile, inflammation is the body’s natural response to any kind of infection and injury. However, if inflammation is not controlled properly, it can become harmful to your health, often causing many chronic diseases. (26)

Together, inflammation and oxidative stress can prove to be highly damaging to your brain. In recent times, there has been a lot of focus on interventions that prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease. (27)

Studies have shown that people who follow the DASH and Mediterranean diets have reduced levels of inflammation and oxidative stress. (28) Since the MIND diet is known to be a hybrid or mix of these two diets, the foods included in the MIND diet are known to have both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. The antioxidants present in berries and the high levels of vitamin E present in olive oil, green leafy vegetables, and other beneficial nutrients in nuts are known to boost brain function in people by keeping the brain safe from oxidative stress. (29)

Furthermore, the presence of omega-3 fatty acids when you consume fatty fish helps lower inflammation in the brain and also slows down the loss of brain function. (30,31,32)

MIND Diet and Reduction of Harmful Beta-Amyloid Proteins

Researchers are also certain that the MIND diet benefits the brain by lowering the levels of harmful beta-amyloid proteins. Beta-amyloid proteins are a type of protein fragments that are produced naturally in the body. However, if they build up over time and form plaques in the brain, it can disrupt the communication channels between the brain cells and also lead to brain cell death. (33) Many experts even believe that the formation of these plaques is one of the main causes of Alzheimer’s disease. (34)

Many test tube and animal studies have shown that the vitamins and antioxidants that the foods of the MIND diet contain can help prevent the build-up of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain. (35,36)

At the same time, the MIND diet restricts those foods that are rich in trans fats and saturated fats. Studies have shown that these types of fats cause an increase in the levels of beta-amyloid proteins in the brains of mice. (37)

Additionally, observational studies in humans have also discovered that the intake of these fats is linked with a doubled risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. (38) Nevertheless, it is also important to note that this type of study is not capable of determining the exact cause and effect. This is why better quality and controlled studies are required to find out exactly how the MIND diet is able to benefit your brain health.

Many observational studies have also shown that the MIND diet is associated with a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and also reduces cognitive decline. (39,40) However, since these studies are observational, they were not able to show the exact cause and effect and could only detect associations.

More recently, though, a study carried out in 2021 found that the MIND diet helped slow down the rate of cognitive decline in people who had a stroke. (41) Furthermore, a 2022 study showed that middle-aged adults who strictly followed the MIND diet had much faster information processing speeds as compared to those people who did not follow the diet closely. (42)

All said and done, there is still more research needed to truly confirm the actual effectiveness of the MIND diet.

Conclusion

The MIND diet was developed by putting together the DASH and Mediterranean diets. It was created to help slow down the decline in brain function that happens naturally with age and also to prevent dementia. The diet recommends a higher intake of vegetables, nuts, berries, whole grains, olive oil, beans, poultry, fatty fish, and wine. These foods are rich in many beneficial nutrients that are good for the brain, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, and also decrease the build-up of beta-amyloid plaques.

While early research on the benefits of the MIND diet for the brain has been promising, further and more in-depth research is still needed to understand how the diet promotes brain health.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 5, 2023

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