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The MIND Diet: Foods, Recipes, and Special Cases

Written by Puya Yazdi, MD | Last updated:
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SelfDecode Science Team | Written by Puya Yazdi, MD | Last updated:

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The MIND diet is adapted from the Mediterranean and DASH diets to support brain and heart health. Read on to learn about appropriate foods, tips, recipes, and special cases.

What is the MIND Diet?

The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet is based on the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, with modifications based on the scientific evidence about the effects of nutrition on brain function [1, 2].

This diet was founded on the results of a study funded by the National Institute on Aging. The goal was to uncover and emphasize brain-healthy foods that are believed to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease [2, 1].

The MIND diet vs. Similar Diets

To better understand how the MIND diet works, we need to take a closer look at the diets it was derived from. The Mediterranean diet was designed to support heart health but also protects against chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer. The DASH diet was developed to lower high blood pressure. Both diets also improve cognition [3, 4, 5, 6].

The MIND diet emphasizes whole plant-based foods and limits red meat, sugar, and foods high in saturated fats. It differs from the Mediterranean and DASH diets by specifying serving amounts of specific food groups that reduce inflammation and decrease the rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. These include green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, and fish [7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13].

In observational studies ranging from 900 – 16,000 people over 58 years of age, eating a MIND diet was linked to improved memory, decreased cognitive decline, and lower rates of Alzheimer’s and dementia [14, 2, 1].

MIND Diet Foods

The MIND diet focuses on foods rich in antioxidants (lutein, carotenoids, and flavonoids), vitamins (E, folate, and niacin), and omega-3 fatty acids. It limits foods high in saturated and trans fats [2].

This diet outlines 10 brain-healthy food categories and provides minimum serving suggestions for each to maximize benefits [1]:

  1. Whole grains (e.g., quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal):
    • 3 servings a day
    • Serving size: ½ cup
  2. Green leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach, kale, swiss chard, collards, arugula):
    • 6 servings a week
    • Serving size: 1 cup raw, ½ cup cooked
  3. Nuts (e.g., walnuts, macadamias, almonds, pecans):
    • 5 servings a week
    • Serving size: ⅓ cup
  4. Beans (e.g., lentils, garbanzo, mung beans, pinto beans, black beans, etc):
    • 3 servings a week
    • Serving Size: ½ cup
  5. Berries (e.g., blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries):
    • 2 servings a week
    • Serving size: ½ cup
  6. Poultry (chicken, turkey):
    • 2 servings a week
    • Serving size: 3 oz cooked
  7. Other vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, squash, peppers):
    • 1 serving a day
    • Serving size: 1 cup raw, ½ cup cooked
  8. Fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel, trout, halibut, sardines, herring):
    • 1 serving a week
    • Serving size: 3 oz cooked
  9. Wine (red or white; red wine contains resveratrol, which may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease [15])
    • No more than one glass a day
    • Serving size: 5 oz
  10. Extra virgin olive oil as the primary oil

The MIND diet encourages limiting the intake of foods that are high in saturated and/or trans fats to the following maximum servings [1]:

  • Butter and margarine: 1 tbsp/day
  • Pastries and sweets: 5 servings/week
  • Red meat: 4 servings/week
  • Cheese: 1 serving/week
  • Fried or fast food: 1 serving/week

The MIND Diet Plan

The primary focus of the MIND diet is to increase the types of foods that support brain health and to cut down on those that don’t. There are no limits on calories or the number of meals per day, and, unlike other diets, it doesn’t require eliminating entire food groups, like fats or carbohydrates [16].

The MIND diet is not a strict diet. Rather, it provides guidelines to follow on a daily or weekly basis. In an observational study, even somewhat following the diet reduced the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in over 900 adults (58 – 98 years of age) [1, 17, 2].

When selecting MIND-diet foods, it is best to choose fresh or frozen berries and vegetables. Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables are higher in vitamins and minerals that support brain health compared to pre-cooked or canned foods [18, 19].

To help you stick to the MIND diet, have the following tips in mind:

  • Aim to eat one green salad every day. Pair with a soup or a sandwich at lunch or include one before dinner.
  • Keep frozen berries on hand. These are cheaper and available throughout the year. Add them to morning smoothies, oatmeal, or as a quick snack.
  • Choose whole grains over refined. Eat brown rice, quinoa, or ancient grains over white pasta and bread.
  • Batch-cook meatless meals for easy lunches. Bean chili, lentil dahl, chickpea curries are great reheated for lunch on busy work days.

MIND Diet Meal Suggestions

Breakfast

  • Steel-cut oatmeal with blueberries and almonds
  • Vegetable frittata with spinach, kale, mushrooms, and peppers

Lunch

  • Chili with ground turkey, tomatoes, black beans, yams and side of brown rice
  • Kale and Quinoa salad with almonds, tomatoes, broccoli; apple cider vinegar and extra virgin olive oil dressing
  • Tabouleh salad: bulgar wheat with parsley, kale, and tomatoes; tahini and lemon dressing

Dinner

  • Baked walnut-crusted salmon with quinoa; side salad drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar; 1 glass of red wine
  • Stir-fried chicken breast, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and cashews over brown rice

The Mind Diet as a Vegetarian

If you are a vegetarian, you will need to modify the MIND diet to ensure adequate intake of brain-protective compounds including omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and protein.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fish-based omega-3 fatty acids are made of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), whereas plant sources provide only ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a precursor that is not efficiently converted into DHA and EPA in the body [20].

The primary drawback of following a vegetarian MIND-like diet would be the lack of DHA omega-3 fatty acids that are strongly associated with reduced rates of Alzheimer’s disease [1, 21].

Two omega-3 alternatives for vegetarians include algae omega-3 oil and perilla oil.

Algae oil supplements are a promising alternative due to their high DHA content, comparable amounts found in fish [22].

Perilla oil is derived from perilla seeds and has the potential to prevent or help with Alzheimer’s. In rats, mice and nerve cells, ALA from perilla oil had similar effects to DHA on cognition. While chia seeds are also high in ALA, they did not improve cognitive impairment in mice [23, 24, 25, 26].

B12

Animal proteins are high in B12, an essential vitamin not commonly found in plant-based foods. B12 is necessary for DNA synthesis, and nerve and blood health. Low B12 is linked to reduced cognition and increased rates of Alzheimer’s disease in clinical and observational studies [27, 28, 29, 30].

Vegetarians can supplement the MIND-diet with plant-based foods high in B12 such as nori algae and shitake mushrooms or take supplements [31, 32].

Protein

The full spectrum of amino acids derived from protein is essential for proper brain function and cognition. Vegetarians omitting all animal-based proteins in the MIND diet will need to compensate for the loss of about 75 g of protein per week [33].

Some plant-based foods with high protein content include [34]:

  • Tempeh (3oz): 17g
  • Pumpkin seeds (⅓ cup): 33g
  • Almonds (⅓ cup): 18g
  • Lentils, uncooked (½ cup): 16g
  • Tofu (3oz): 14g
  • Black beans, uncooked (½ cup): 13g
  • Quinoa, uncooked (½ cup): 9g

Mind Diet Recipes

Herb and Vegetable Frittata

  1. Lightly oil a 6”x 8” baking dish with olive oil. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add ½ cup bell peppers, ½ cup of shiitake mushrooms and sauté for 3 minutes.
  3. Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
  4. Stir in 2 cups of kale, 1 cup of spinach and 1 cup of chard. Saute until wilted and remove from heat.
  5. Whisk 10 eggs and add 1 tablespoon thyme, 1 teaspoon of salt, and ¼ teaspoon fresh pepper. Lay the cooked vegetables along the bottom of the baking dish. Pour the egg mixture over and bake 25 to 30 minutes.

*Makes 6 servings.

Walnut Crusted Salmon

  1. Place 1½ cups walnuts in a food processor. Add 3 tablespoons of breadcrumbs, rind from one lemon, 1½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and 3 tablespoons of fresh dill; pulse until crumbly. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.
  2. Arrange 6 x 3 oz salmon fillets skin side down on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush tops with Dijon mustard.
  3. Spoon ⅓ cup of walnut crumb mixture over each fillet and gently press. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 hours.
  4. Bake at 350°F 15 to 20 minutes, or until salmon flakes with a fork.
  5. Serve with brown rice and a side salad.
    *Makes 6 servings.

Three Bean Chili

  1. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 diced onion to a large pot over medium heat. Saute for about 5 – 6 minutes.
  2. Add 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 jalapeño seeded and minced, 1 red bell pepper minced, ½ teaspoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon dried cumin powder, and 2 tablespoons dried chili powder. Cook while stirring for 3 minutes.
  3. Add 1 cup tomato sauce, 1 cup water, 15 oz cooked black beans, 15 oz cooked pinto beans, 15 oz cooked kidney beans, and 1 lb bag of frozen corn.
  4. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and cook for 20 minutes.
  5. After 20 minutes, mash some of the beans to thicken the chili. Add extra water if needed.
  6. Stir well and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Further Reading

About the Author

Puya Yazdi

Puya Yazdi

MD
Dr. Puya Yazdi is a physician-scientist with 14+ years of experience in clinical medicine, life sciences, biotechnology, and nutraceuticals.
As a physician-scientist with expertise in genomics, biotechnology, and nutraceuticals, he has made it his mission to bring precision medicine to the bedside and help transform healthcare in the 21st century.He received his undergraduate education at the University of California at Irvine, a Medical Doctorate from the University of Southern California, and was a Resident Physician at Stanford University. He then proceeded to serve as a Clinical Fellow of The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine at The University of California at Irvine, where he conducted research of stem cells, epigenetics, and genomics. He was also a Medical Director for Cyvex Nutrition before serving as president of Systomic Health, a biotechnology consulting agency, where he served as an expert on genomics and other high-throughput technologies. His previous clients include Allergan, Caladrius Biosciences, and Omega Protein. He has a history of peer-reviewed publications, intellectual property discoveries (patents, etc.), clinical trial design, and a thorough knowledge of the regulatory landscape in biotechnology.He is leading our entire scientific and medical team in order to ensure accuracy and scientific validity of our content and products.

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