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].
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 and lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases [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 risk 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 – 16k 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 .
This diet outlines 10 brain-healthy food categories and provides minimum serving suggestions for each to maximize benefits :
- Whole grains (e.g., quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal):
- 3 servings a day
- Serving size: ½ cup
- Green leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach, kale, swiss chard, collards, arugula):
- 6 servings a week
- Serving size: 1 cup raw, ½ cup cooked
- Nuts (e.g., walnuts, macadamia, almonds, pecans):
- 5 servings a week
- Serving size: ⅓ cup
- Beans (e.g., lentils, garbanzo, mung bean, pinto bean, black beans etc):
- 3 servings a week
- Serving Size: ½ cup
- Berries (e.g., blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries):
- 2 servings a week
- Serving size: ½ cup
- Poultry (chicken, turkey):
- 2 servings a week
- Serving size: 3 oz cooked
- Other vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, squash, peppers):
- 1 serving a day
- Serving size: 1 cup raw, ½ cup cooked
- Fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel, trout, halibut, sardines, herring):
- 1 serving a week
- Serving size: 3 oz cooked
- Wine (red or white; red wine contains resveratrol, which may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease )
- No more than one glass a day
- Serving size: 5 oz
- 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 :
- 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 number of meals per day, and. Unlike other diets, it doesn’t require eliminating entire food groups, like fats or carbohydrates .
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 mildly following the diet reduced the risk of developing 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 precooked 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 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
- Steel-cut oatmeal with blueberries and almonds
- Vegetable frittata with spinach, kale, mushrooms, and peppers
- 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
- 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
For detailed recipes, skip to this section of the article.
How Does the Mind Diet Boost Health?
What differentiates the MIND diet from its parent diets is its focus on identifying key foods, serving sizes and frequencies that protect against dementia, Alzheimer’s, and cognitive decline [20, 21, 22, 23].
All the key foods included in the MIND diet have been researched for their brain-protective effects:
Leafy green vegetables, high in vitamins (C, E, K, and folate) and antioxidants, slowed cognitive decline and protected against the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease (observational studies of ~3k elderly people) [24, 13, 25].
Antioxidant-rich berries are the only fruit highlighted in the MIND diet. Eating berries was also linked to decreased neuron loss and improved memory and cognition in studies of up to 16k older people. In one clinical trial, supplementing with a blueberry concentrate improved brain activity and memory in 12 seniors over 65 years old [26, 27, 28, 26, 29].
Fish is an excellent source of the brain-protective omega-3 fatty acid DHA. In one trial, 900 mg/day DHA (~one serving of sardines or salmon) improved memory and learning in >400 adults. Eating fish once a week was linked to a 60% decrease in Alzheimer’s risk in older people, while omega-3s enhanced cognition in mild Alzheimer’s [32, 33, 34, 35, 36].
Health Benefits of the MIND Diet
1) The MIND Diet Improves Brain Health
In numerous human and animal studies, foods highlighted in the MIND diet reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and improved memory. This was particularly so in those with healthy brain function or at the very early stages of cognitive decline.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia
In a clinical trial of 923 people, modest compliance to the MIND diet for 4.5 years decreased the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 53% in those over 60 years of age. In comparison, people had to comply very strictly to the Mediterranean or DASH diet to see similar results .
The main foods that protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are precisely those highlighted in MIND diet (extra virgin olive oil, whole grains, nuts and legumes, and reduced dairy), according to comprehensive reviews on nutrition and brain health, [37, 5, 38, 39, 40, 25, 11, 41].
In observational studies of ~2 – 10k people aged 55 years or older, eating MIND diet foods protected against Alzheimer’s and dementia. On the other hand, eating white bread, high-fat dairy products, eggs, meat, fried foods, and sweets increased these risks [42, 43, 44, 45].
Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D (salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines) should be prioritized. Omega-3s from fish and marine oils were linked to prevention and improvement of Alzheimer’s disease. Greatest benefits were seen in people with healthy brain function, those at the earliest disease stages, and in non-carriers of the ApoE4 allele (reviews of observational and clinical studies) [46, 47, 32, 48].
The MIND diet limits alcohol consumption to 1 drink per day, a quantity that protected against Alzheimer’s and dementia in observational studies. Inversely, both abstinence and heavier consumption (more than 2 drinks per day) were linked with greater risk [49, 50, 51].
Memory and Cognition
In a clinical trial of about 500 older people (>70 years of age), the Mediterranean diet enhanced with olive oil or nuts improved cognition more than a low-fat diet. Specifically, polyphenols in olive oil improve learning and memory, according to reviews of human and animal studies [52, 53, 54].
Eating MIND-diet foods improved cognitive function including memory, attention and visual-spatial skills in observational studies of over 23k people (aged 58 years or more). Lower intake of vegetables and legumes, specifically, was linked to cognitive decline [55, 3, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 35, 61, 2, 62, 14].
Each of the specific foods highlighted in the MIND diet (extra virgin olive oil, berries, leafy green vegetables) improved cognition, learning, memory, and reduced age-related brain dysfunction and oxidative damage in rats and mice [63, 64, 65].
2) The MIND Diet Reduces Inflammation
Chronic inflammation can trigger or worsen many diseases, including Alzheimer’s, heart and autoimmune diseases. In some cases, eating mostly MIND-diet-friendly nutrient-dense, plant-based foods and eliminating high-fat and sugary foods can reduce inflammation [66, 67, 68, 69, 70].
Eating MIND diet foods (legumes, whole grains, vegetables, olive oil) for at least 12 weeks lowered markers of inflammation (analysis of 17 clinical trials and 2,3k people).
In a clinical trial with 164 people at high risk for heart disease, a Mediterranean diet that included 1.5 oz of extra virgin olive oil and ¼ cup of nuts per day reduced inflammatory markers by up to 95% compared to low-fat diets in older people (55 – 80 years of age) .
An observational study of over 24k people linked a diet focused on vegetables, olive oil, fruit and fish with lower levels of inflammatory markers (C-reactive protein and white blood cells) in adults .
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are well-known anti-inflammatories. They are linked to lower brain inflammation and a slower loss of brain function (reviews of observational, clinical and animal studies) [74, 75].
Olive oil is the key anti-inflammatory ingredient of the MIND diet. The evidence to back up its benefits is abundant. For example, olive oil reduced inflammation in people over 50 years of age, having a stronger effect in those at higher risk for heart disease (reviews of clinical studies of ~500 people and observational studies of >40k people) [76, 77, 78, 79, 80].
Consuming extra virgin olive oil has also been linked to reduced inflammation in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and multiple sclerosis (observational and clinical reviews) [81, 82].
Polyphenols from olive oil and red wine reduced inflammation in human cells. Antioxidant polyphenols are possibly the main anti-inflammatory substances in these foods .
3) The MIND Diet May Lower Cancer Risk
Heavy consumption of MIND diet foods (especially vegetables, legumes, olive oil, and whole grains) lowered cancer risk. It also reduced the number of deaths from various cancers, including colon, breast, stomach, pancreas, prostate, liver, and head and neck cancers (reviews of clinical and observational studies) [84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 39, 90].
Consuming nuts more than 8 times/month for over 4 years was linked to a reduced risk of cancer and death in over 19k people. This study suggests that MIND diet recommendations of nut intake on the higher ranger (5 servings per week) may also protect against cancer .
4) The MIND Diet Boosts Weight Loss
The MIND diet is designed for brain health, but the focus on whole, plant-based foods and the reduction of sweets, dairy, fried and fast foods promotes healthy weight loss. The diet is also rich in fiber and low in high-calorie foods [95, 95, 96, 97, 98].
Plant-based foods (legumes and whole grains) prevent weight gain and obesity better than high-protein, low-fat, and low-glycemic-index diets (observational and clinical studies) [99, 100, 101, 102, 103].
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of obesity. Eating olive oil, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts decreased the risk of metabolic syndrome by 35% and reduced the likelihood of weight gain in an observational study of almost 800 young adults [104, 105].
5) The MIND Diet Is Rich in Antioxidants
The MIND diet is filled with foods high in antioxidants, primarily polyphenols (berries, olive oil, red wine), carotenoids (carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, red peppers), vitamin C (leafy vegetables), and vitamin E (olive oil and nuts) [106, 107, 108].
Eating foods high in antioxidants protects the brain against oxidative stress, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and cancer (observational and clinical studies). Similar results were not observed when people supplement with one or two individual antioxidants/vitamins [109, 106, 110, 111, 112].
In reviews of observational studies, blood and brain levels of vitamins C and E were lower in Alzheimer’s patients compared to healthy adults. Deficiencies in these antioxidants may worsen brain function and can be counteracted by increasing foods like nuts and leafy greens [111, 113, 114].
6) The MIND Diet Protects the Heart
The MIND diet recommends eating plant-based foods high in fiber, complex carbs, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and phytochemicals. MIND diet foods reduced the risk of heart disease, the deaths from heart disease, total cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol compared to lower-fat diets (reviews of observational and clinical trials) [115, 116, 105, 117, 39, 118].
Extra virgin olive oil, the primary fat in the MIND diet, helped prevent heart failure, plaque build-up in the arteries, irregular heartbeat and heart disease (review of clinical and observational studies) .
Flavonoids, abundant in berries, were linked to lower LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, lower blood pressure, as well as improved heart health overall (clinical, observational, and animal studies) [119, 112].
7) The MIND Diet May Improve Diabetes
Eating high amounts of whole grains, fruits and vegetables improved blood sugar control and reduced overall risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by ~20% compared to low-fat diets (review of meta-analyses and 5 clinical trials) .
One analysis of over 400 observational studies explored the relationship between major food groups in the MIND diet (whole grains, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and fish) and the risk of type 2 diabetes. They found that :
- Decreasing the consumption of “high risk” foods (red and processed meats, sugary drinks) reduced the risk of Type 2 diabetes threefold;
- Eating optimal amounts of whole grains (2 servings/day), fruits (2-3 servings/day), and vegetables (2-3 servings/day) reduced the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 42%
- Eating 50g/day of whole grains alone reduced the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 25%
In another analysis, most MIND-diet foods were linked with a 20% reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes (18 observational studies) .
8) The MIND Diet May Help Prevent Depression
MIND-like diets, high in plant-based foods, reduced the risk of depression in several studies (clinical and observational). The protective effects are likely from eating a combination of these foods, as opposed to taking isolated nutrients [122, 123].
In a clinical trial of 95 postmenopausal women, the DASH diet (one of the parent diets of the MIND diet) for 14 weeks, improved mood and lowered the risk of depression .
In an observational study of almost 16k adults, sticking to the Mediterranean diet for 10 years was linked with a decreased risk of depression. These results were attributed to foods also found in the MIND diet (vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, fish) .
9) The MIND Diet May Reduce Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms
In observational studies of over 1.5 million people, diets rich in foods common to the Mediterranean and MIND diets reduced the incidence of Parkinson’s disease by 13% .
In another observational study of over 700 people older people, the MIND diet decreased the risk and slowed Parkinson’s disease symptom worsening, such as tremors and poor balance .
10) The MIND diet May Improve Longevity
In observational studies of over 3k people, a MIND-like diet was linked to a longer lifespan in people over 65 years of age. This effect was associated with a slower rate at which the telomeres get shortened, a key indicator of biological aging [127, 128, 129].
The Mind Diet as a Vegetarian
As 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 .
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 .
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 [132, 133, 134, 135, 135].
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 an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease (clinical and observational studies) [136, 137, 138, 139].
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 .
Some plant-based foods with high protein content include :
- Tempeh (3oz): 17g
- Pumpkin seed (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
- Lightly oil a 6”x 8” baking dish with olive oil. Preheat oven to 375°F.
- 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.
- Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
- Stir in 2 cups of kale, 1 cup of spinach and 1 cup of chard. Saute until wilted and remove from heat.
- 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
- 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.
- Arrange 6 x 3 oz salmon fillets skin side down on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush tops with Dijon mustard.
- Spoon ⅓ cup of walnut crumb mixture over each fillet and gently press. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 hours.
- Bake at 350°F 15 to 20 minutes, or until salmon flakes with a fork.
- Serve with brown rice and a side salad.
*Makes 6 servings.
Three Bean Chili
- Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 diced onion to a large pot over medium heat. Saute for about 5 – 6 minutes.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and cook for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, mash some of the beans to thicken the chili. Add extra water if needed.
- Stir well and simmer for another 10 minutes.
The MIND diet highlights the need to consume 1 serving of fish weekly, primarily for its omega-3 content. But some fish species can be high in contaminants such as mercury that can affect the nervous system and cognition .
In one analysis, mercury had subtle effects on the developing nervous systems of newborns. Pregnant or breastfeeding women, as well as those planning to become pregnant, and very young children should avoid fish high in mercury (such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tuna, and golden bass) [145, 146].
The MIND diet highlights foods like wheat, legumes, and vegetables, including nightshades. All these foods may be problematic for some people.
People with food allergies, chronic food sensitivities, lectin sensitivity, or autoimmune disorders will need to modify this diet to align with their specific needs and health status. This may require complete elimination or reduction of certain food groups (legumes, grains).
Read more about the lectin avoidance diet and why lectins are bad in this SelfHacked post.
Limitations and Caveats
The MIND diet benefits have mostly only been shown in observational studies, so it’s not possible to tease apart the cause and effect. Replication of the findings in clinical studies is needed to confirm the association between this diet and improvements in cognition and Alzheimer’s and dementia prevention .
The current studies included dietary questionnaires with a few questions for some dietary component. The information on how frequently specific foods are consumed is limited, which could over- or underestimate the effects on cognitive decline and reduction in Alzheimer risk .
Other lifestyle-related factors strongly associated with risk of Alzheimer disease, dementia and cognitive decline (physical activity, sleep quality) should be accounted for in future studies to allow for a more holistic approach to disease prevention [147, 148, 149].
Studies investigating dietary influences on the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia for carriers of the ApoE4 are limited.
Genetic Predispositions (APOE Status)
Carriers of the ApoE4 allele and women may need to modify the MIND diet to further reduce alcohol and/or red and processed meat intake.
The ApoE4 allele is a strong predictor of Alzheimer’s disease primarily because it can disrupt the breakdown and transport of fats that support optimal brain function. Observational studies suggest ApoE4 carriers are more sensitive to the negative effects of alcohol and saturated fats, suggesting a further reduction or complete elimination should be considered [150, 151, 152, 153].
In mice, carriers of the ApoE4 allele were more susceptible to low levels of DHA omega-3 fatty acids suggesting increasing fish may also be beneficial for carriers of this allele. However, human observational studies only show a beneficial link of additional DHA with non-carriers of the ApoE4 allele [154, 155, 156].
Women may also want to consider reducing their alcohol intake as wine only protected men from cognitive decline and risk of Alzheimer’s disease (observational study of >2.6k people over the age of 75). In this study, women who drank white wine several times a week had steeper memory decline suggesting a sex-specific harmful effect of alcohol .
Several followers of the MIND and/or Mediterranean diets found the guidelines relatively easy to follow given the flexible nature of the diet. The biggest adjustment appeared to be around cost, as fresh and high-quality produce (like olive oil and nuts) is more expensive.
Adjustments that some users found challenging were having to make homemade snacks, instead of buying pre-packaged ones, and not eating out as much.
Some reviewers noticed physical and mental improvements within the first week of following the MIND diet. Improvements included increased energy levels, less brain fog, fewer cravings for sweets, and decreased bloating. Longer term benefits included weight loss and decreased anxiety and depression.
The MIND diet is great for people who are looking to support their brain health and age gracefully.
As a child of two well-researched diets (the Mediterranean and DASH diets), the MIND diet also offers benefits for the heart, blood vessels, and weight loss. It encourages the intake of nutrient-rich plant foods and fish while limiting the intake of saturated fats, sugars, dairy, and alcohol.
Unlike most diets, the MIND meal plan is very liberal. It does not eliminate any food group, nor does it limit the number of calories or meals that should be consumed within a day. Following the MIND diet is easy and it can boost cognitive function. Plus, this diet can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, especially in older people.
The MIND diet can be adapted to your needs (e.g. if you’re vegetarian or have food allergies), as long as you make sure you are getting enough of the key nutrients.