The Mind Diet – Everything You Need To Know by Simple
Your brain is the thing that makes you you—your perspective, your memories, your expressions, your emotions, and your thoughts. It’s an incredibly powerful hub of activity, but like any other part of your body, its capabilities and functions can change over time and decline with age. So how can you help it mature like fine wine?
The MIND diet may help.
A hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, the MIND diet involves prioritizing foods that can boost brainpower and protect your brain from age-related challenges like cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
While eating certain foods won’t magically supercharge your brain into a Wordle pro (it’s devastating, we know), what you eat may help improve cognitive function and slow cognitive decline.
To help you get to grips with what the MIND diet is, how it works, and what foods might have these brain-benefitting superpowers, our experts have outlined everything you need to know.
- The MIND diet aims to support brain health, shield against potential cognitive impairments, and prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Unlike many other eating routines, which involve timed eating windows, calorie restriction, or other lifestyle changes, the MIND diet simply involves eating more of certain foods and limiting others.
- There are ten brain-health boosting, health-promoting groups of food to prioritize for the MIND diet and five to limit.
- More research is needed to figure out the MIND diet’s impact on different conditions, but so far, evidence suggests it can slow cognitive decline, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and improve overall brain health.
What is the MIND diet?
The MIND diet is a combination of two eating routines:
- The Mediterranean diet, which involves prioritizing fruits, veggies, whole grains, fish, plant proteins, and heart-healthy fats to improve overall body functioning and reduce the risk of chronic health conditions; and
- The DASH diet, which involves prioritizing fruits, veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean meats to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Don’t worry, two diets doesn’t mean double the work! It just means cherry-picking advice from each way of eating that relates specifically to improving brain health and using those as guidelines to shape your food routine.
Rather than focusing on weight loss, strength training, certain nutritional needs, or overall body functioning, the MIND diet is all about your brain—how to fuel it, boost it, and keep it feeling and performing at its best.
While your brain is an organ, not a muscle, it still needs exercise to keep it fit and functioning, so you can think of the MIND diet as part of your brain’s personal training program.
How does the MIND diet work?
Boosting your brainpower just by eating? How does that even work?
The MIND diet is super simple: its principles surround ten food groups to eat and five food groups to limit. There are serving sizes to consider, but you don’t have to worry about calorie counting, eating windows, or additional lifestyle changes.
We’ll get into the specifics of what foods to eat and limit as part of a MIND diet plan shortly, but broadly speaking, the MIND diet focuses on eating more plant-based, minimally processed foods. It also recommends eating meat and dairy sparingly (less than four times a week) and limiting ultra-processed foods and foods high in saturated fats. Vegans and cheeseburger-lovers rejoice: the MIND diet can work for you both.
The MIND diet recommends these food groups because they are rich sources of fiber and/or nutrients that have been associated with brain health. More specifically, they contain certain vitamins, carotenoids, and flavonoids—basically brain superfoods—that can protect your brain from inflammation and prevent the onset or slow the progression of dementia.
Is the MIND diet backed by medical research?
Its origin stories—the Mediterranean and DASH diets—have been connected to healthier brain aging, but what about the MIND diet?
The MIND diet is fairly new to the scene of eating routines—it was first developed in 2015, so long-term results can only cover so much ground—but so far, supporting evidence is fairly compelling.
The Rush University researchers who created the MIND diet found that not only did people who ate more MIND-diet-friendly foods have a significantly slower rate of cognitive decline but also that the MIND diet had greater effects on cognition than either the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet alone. They also found that following the MIND diet may decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease regardless of whether other risk or preventative factors associated with dementia are present.
Other research has found similar brain-boosting benefits. Following the MIND diet has been linked to slower cognitive decline after a stroke, improved verbal memory, and better overall cognitive function.
One point that’s worth keeping in mind (no pun intended) about most existing MIND diet research: a lot of the studies focus solely on older adults rather than a broader population and get their data from a food questionnaire that participants fill out. Based on what participants report about their diet, researchers can study the effects of higher MIND diet scores (more closely following the eating routine) compared to lower MIND diet scores. Even though these questionnaires are validated, there’s still potential to introduce human error or self-reporting biases since the diet scores aren’t based on researcher observation.
The MIND diet schedule and meal plan
Imagine going to the grocery store and finding everything you need for your meal plan. No hard-to-find or super-pricey ingredients. No specialty shops. No roaming the aisles for hours, poring over labels and nutrition facts.
We got exhausted just thinking about the alternative.
The MIND diet meal plan involves foods that are all easily found and readily available. And the word “plan” is a loose one. Although the MIND diet food list specifies foods to limit and daily and weekly amounts of said foods to eat, it doesn’t include rigid eating schedules or prescriptive meal plans and recipes.
So while the shopping experience won’t be an effort, planning actual recipes might be. We’ll walk you through what to eat, what to limit, and what a starter MIND diet meal plan might look like.
Foods to eat on the MIND diet
- Berries (two or more servings per week)
- Green, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach (at least one serving per day)
- All other vegetables (two or more servings per day)
- Whole grains (three or more servings per day)
- Beans (four or more servings per week)
- Poultry (two or more servings per week)
- Nuts (five or more servings per week)
- Fatty fish/seafood like sardines and salmon (one or more servings per week)
- Olive oil (at least one serving daily)
- Wine (one glass per day) You definitely don’t have to drink with the MIND diet, but if you love a little wine and whine happy hour, moderate wine consumption has been connected to better performance on cognitive tests. (No, for the record, we don’t recommend having a glass before your next exam or performance review!)
Foods to limit on the MIND diet
- Cheese (no more than one serving per week)
- Red meat (no more than four servings per week)
- Butter and margarine (no more than one tablespoon daily)
- Fried/fast food (no more than one serving per week)
- Sweets/pastries (no more than five servings per week)
A MIND diet beginner’s meal plan
The possibilities of a MIND diet meal plan are fairly endless, but here are a few ideas for some MIND-diet-friendly meals:
|Greek yogurt and blueberries with a slice of whole grain toast||Kale Caesar salad||Pistachio-crusted chicken with roasted broccoli|
|Vegetable frittata with one whole wheat pita||Three-bean and quinoa chili||Grilled salmon with asparagus and brown rice|
|Oatmeal with almonds and strawberries||Turkey sandwich on a whole wheat roll with tomato, lettuce, and shredded carrots||Chickpea and vegetable curry with whole grain paratha|
How does the MIND diet compare to other popular diets?
Unlike many other eating routines, the MIND diet doesn’t involve calorie counting, eating only during certain windows, eliminating certain food groups entirely, or modifying other elements of your lifestyle. (Though FYI, physical activity can also help with brain health and reduce the risk of dementia.)
Since it involves a less restrictive eating routine and its staple foods are easy to find, some people find the MIND diet easier to stick to (even without the soothing effects of that nightly glass of wine!). However, others who aren’t used to eating more plant-based protein may find it more difficult, especially when figuring out how to create MIND diet recipes.
Another big plus of the MIND diet, compared to other popular eating routines, is that its flexibility lends itself to being layered with other ways of eating if you’re catering to other nutritional needs or also working toward health goals beyond a healthier brain. For example, if you’re considering weight loss or an intermittent fasting plan, the MIND diet can be a part of that. (And if you are, we can help! Our SIMPLE quiz can help you discover what plans might work best for you and your goals, and you can also check out our guide to intermittent fasting for beginners as well as our ideas on what to eat during intermittent fasting and what you can drink while fasting.)
Health benefits and risks of the MIND diet
Ready for one of the best aspects of the MIND diet? Current research doesn’t associate it with any health risks beyond individual allergies or intolerances to the recommended foods.
Who knew low risk, high reward could actually be a thing?!
Before you start the slow clap of admiration, there is a slight “but,” though: more research and more clinical trials are needed to prove that the MIND diet really works for powering up your brain and to what extent it works for different populations under different conditions.
Based on what we know so far, here are some evidence-based benefits of the MIND diet.
Slower cognitive decline
The first of the 2015 studies that launched the concept of the MIND diet found that following this way of eating substantially slowed age-related cognitive decline, even if participants only moderately stuck to MIND diet food staples—though sticking with MIND diet staples more diligently led to an equivalent of being 7.5 years younger, cognitively speaking! A follow-up study in 2021 also found these results were consistent across people both with and without dementia and other brain-related impairments.
Reduced risk and slower progression of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
The second of the 2015 launch studies found that this eating routine reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 53%. More recent research has linked the MIND diet to slower progressions of cognitive impairments in people who have Alzheimer’s disease as well as with people who have dementia.
Reduced risk and slower progression of Parkinson’s disease
Similarly, one study following adults aged 59−97 found that higher MIND diet scores were associated with a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease and a slower rate of Parkinson’s disease progression more significantly than either the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet.
May reduce inflammation
Eating routines that have high inflammatory potential (like processed red meat, fried foods, and refined sugar) have been associated with a higher risk of dementia, and the MIND diet is rich in foods that actively fight inflammation, like green vegetables, berries, olive oil, and nuts.
May reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes
Although the aim of the MIND diet focuses on brain health, its diet “parents”—the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet—have been linked to better heart health, lower risk of heart failure, lower risk of diabetes, and better blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes.
Pros and cons of the MIND diet
|Flexible with limited food restrictions||Doesn’t specify portion sizes|
|No rigid meal plans||Requires creating meal plans|
|Easy-to-follow ‘non-diet’ approach||Have to plan own recipes|
|Involves easy-to-find foods||Some produce/nuts are expensive|
|Only focuses on eating habits||Doesn’t consider other lifestyle factors|
The MIND diet, in many ways, is easy as pie (and you can indeed eat pie doing it, too). With limited food restrictions, no set meal plans, and an approach that emphasizes readily accessible foods as staples, the MIND diet is super adaptable to your lifestyle and unique needs, preferences, schedule, and budget. It’s even fairly easy to satisfy when you’re eating out. All you really have to do is eat specific amounts of certain—fairly broad—food groups each week, and you could be on your way to a healthier brain.
You know what they say about great power and great responsibility. All of the freedom and flexibility the MIND diet offers, in turn, leaves you with a lot of sleuthing to do to figure out meal plans, recipes, and portions that will satisfy your weekly serving sizes and still ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need. The plan (as loose as it is) also doesn’t consider things like physical activity or other lifestyle factors, which may impact your results or require factoring in other dietary needs. Finally, while all of the MIND diet food staples are easy to find, some fresh produce (like berries) and nuts can be more expensive.
Is the MIND diet right for you?
Although the MIND diet can be particularly helpful for people who have Alzheimer’s disease or other cognitive impairments or have a family history of it, anyone can benefit from its brain-boosting effects.
As with any new eating routine, you may want to talk to your doctor before you make any substantial modifications. A dietitian may also be helpful in brainstorming (okay, pun slightly intended!) a MIND diet meal plan that might work best for you.
The MIND diet and weight loss
Although the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet on which the MIND diet is based have been linked to weight loss and weight management, so far, there isn’t significant evidence to connect the MIND diet specifically with weight loss.
However, while the MIND diet isn’t geared toward weight loss, it’s possible you may lose weight by limiting foods that can contribute to weight gain, like sweets and fried foods, and focusing on foods that make up a balanced plate—though it definitely won’t be a fast process. (This is okay by us since gradual weight loss is safer, more effective, and longer-lasting!)
If you’re considering weight loss and also want to give the MIND diet a try, you may think about pairing MIND diet meal principles with another food routine, like a fasting plan. We’ve got a ton of advice on getting started, planning meals, and maintaining motivation, and you can take our SIMPLE quiz to find out what plans might be a good fit for your goals.
Is the MIND diet budget-friendly?
As the MIND diet recommends quite a few weekly servings of berries and nuts, which are often more expensive than pre-packaged, ultra-processed foods like chips or cookies, your weekly shopping bill may be a bit higher than you’d like.
But there are some savings hacks you can use to cut down on spending.
Swapping out fresh berries for frozen ones and looking for bulk deals on MIND diet pantry staples—like nuts and olive oil—are both really useful in protecting your grocery budget. Focusing on plant-based protein like canned beans and legumes rather than meat products can help, too.
Simple’s expert opinion and final thoughts
If you love a flexible eating routine and don’t mind a little extra effort in planning meals and shopping lists, the MIND diet can be a great way to introduce more nutrient-dense, health-promoting foods to your plate. While more research is needed to establish how, to what extent, and for what people the MIND diet may be effective, so far, science suggests it can improve your overall health, lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and boost your brain’s power and longevity.
Whatever the MIND diet looks like for you, if you’re considering it in the context of supporting your happy weight, we can help. To learn more about health-promoting eating habits and meeting your nutritional needs, head to our SIMPLE quiz to get started.
Frequently asked questions about the MIND diet
Are eggs part of the MIND diet?
Yes, eggs are part of the MIND diet! A MIND diet meal plan does limit cheese and butter, though, so you should go easy on adding all the dairy into your scramble.
What do you eat for breakfast on the MIND diet?
There are many possibilities for what you can eat for breakfast on the MIND diet. Berries and whole grains like oatmeal or whole wheat toast and bagels are great staples to have on hand, but you can also get creative with things like smoothies, chicken and vegetable frittatas, or berry and nut pancakes.
Do you lose weight on the MIND diet?
You can lose weight on the MIND diet since you will be filling your plate with nutrient-dense, health-promoting foods, but it’s not the best diet to use for weight loss. You may have more weight loss success by pairing MIND diet principles with an eating routine more focused on weight loss specifically.
Can you drink tea on the MIND diet?
Yes, you can definitely drink tea on the MIND diet! Some evidence suggests habitual tea drinking may improve your brain’s efficiency, and green tea, in particular, has caffeine and antioxidants that may even reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Can you eat bread on the MIND diet?
You can absolutely eat bread (and other carbs) as part of the MIND diet. To maximize its nutritional value, choose bread made from whole grain flour, like whole wheat, rye, spelt, or millet. You should also ensure you have three servings of whole grains per day.