Diet Review: MIND Diet | The Nutrition Source | Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health

Finding yourself confused by the seemingly endless promotion of weight-loss strategies and diet plans? In this series, we take a look at some popular diets—and review the research behind them. What…

The Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, or MIND diet, targets the health of the aging brain. Dementia is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, driving many people to search for ways to prevent cognitive decline. In 2015, Dr. Martha Clare Morris and colleagues at Rush University Medical Center and the Harvard Chan School of Public Health published two papers introducing the MIND diet. [1,2] Both the Mediterranean and DASH diets had already been associated with preservation of cognitive function, presumably through their protective effects against cardiovascular disease, which in turn preserved brain health.

The research team followed a group of older adults for up to 10 years from the Rush Memory and Aging Project (MAP), a study of residents free of dementia at the time of enrollment. They were recruited from more than 40 retirement communities and senior public housing units in the Chicago area. More than 1,000 participants filled out annual dietary questionnaires for nine years and had two cognitive assessments. A MIND diet score was developed to identify foods and nutrients, along with daily serving sizes, related to protection against dementia and cognitive decline. The results of the study produced fifteen dietary components that were classified as either “brain healthy” or as unhealthy. Participants with the highest MIND diet scores had a significantly slower rate of cognitive decline compared with those with the lowest scores. [1] The effects of the MIND diet on cognition showed greater effects than either the Mediterranean or the DASH diet alone.

The purpose of the research was to see if the MIND diet, partially based on the Mediterranean and DASH diets, could directly prevent the onset or slow the progression of dementia. All three diets highlight plant-based foods and limit the intake of animal and high saturated fat foods.

The MIND diet specifically showcases 15 dietary components, including 10 “brain healthy” foods and five unhealthy food items. The healthy items are green leafy vegetables, vegetables other than green leafy types, berries, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, and wine (one glass daily). The unhealthy items are higher in saturated and trans fat and include red meat (including beef, pork, lamb, and products made from these meats), butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried food—especially fast-food fried items.

The MIND diet guidelines suggest including:

The unhealthy foods are limited to pastries and sweets less than 5 servings a week, red meat and red meat products less than 4 times a week, cheese and fried foods less than once a week, and butter/stick margarine less than 1 tablespoon a day.

This sample meal plan is roughly 2000 calories, the recommended intake for an average person. If you have higher calorie needs, you may add an additional snack or two; if you have lower calorie needs, you may remove a snack. If you have more specific nutritional needs or would like assistance in creating additional meal plans, consult with a registered dietitian.