The MIND diet… is it the missing piece to preserving our mental health?
By Donna Rose RDN, LDN
Is the MIND diet the ‘secret sauce’ for avoiding dementia?
Over the course of their lives, some adults have periods of forgetfulness. For instance, they can’t find their keys, or where they put their eyeglasses. Their busy lives keep them multi-tasking. Consequently losing track of things can be expected. So while this can be bothersome, it is “normal”. When forgetfulness involves walking away and leaving the stove on, or getting in the car and forgetting where you are going, the problem is more serious and may be a sign of cognitive impairment.
According to the World Health Organization, dementia is a chronic and progressive degenerative disease. Consequently, we see deterioration in behavior, thinking, memory, and the ability to perform daily activities.
With the right information, can we preserve our mental health?
YES! Given the right guidance and information to make smart choices, we can navigate through aging while preserving our mind and body.
Hear what science has to say about the latest research on brain health and how to implement it in your life.
The MIND Diet draws on the Mediterranean and DASH diets
MIND stands for Mediterranean/Dash-Intervention for-Neurodegenerative-Delay.
It is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets known for their heart health and hypertension benefits.
The Mediterranean diet
Following the Mediterranean diet means:
- Eating more healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, and nut-butters.
- Having more fish and seafood meals, ideally three or more times per week. Fatty fish high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna are the best choices. Skinless chicken and turkey intake are also encouraged.
- Limiting or eliminating red meat intake to reduce saturated fats.
- Increasing fiber intake by eating more whole grains and seeds, as well as fruits and vegetables.
- Limiting dairy to 2 cups per day and choose lower-fat varieties.
- Including a glass of red wine and a treat of dark chocolate (>73% cacao) on occasion.
The Mediterranean diet has a reputation for being the “healthiest diet you can eat”. In other words, it does not eliminate any important food groups or nutrients. It is also sustainable, and promotes healthy lifelong eating habits.
The DASH diet
DASH stands for Dietary –Approaches –Stop -Hypertension. It was designed to help control blood pressure but has also helped people lose weight.
The DASH diet mimics the Mediterranean diet in many ways. However, it is also a low salt diet, lowering sodium intake, both added and processed. Additionally, it emphasizes nutrients that are important for maintaining stable blood pressure, such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, and fiber.
Both the Mediterranean and DASH diets also include following a lifestyle that includes exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking.
The MIND diet takes it a step further
The MIND combines the Mediterranean and DASH diets, but takes it a step further, focusing on specific foods within each food group. For example, the MIND diet not only promotes fruit intake but encourages fruits rich in particular substances.
The MIND diet:
- promotes fruits and vegetables that are particularly high in carotenoids, and flavonoids, emphasizing their antioxidant content and role in attacking dangerous free radicals and reducing inflammation.
- Encourages the choice of nuts and fish that are highest in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, and oysters. Omega-3 fatty acids help to lower cholesterol and therefore reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Promotes the consumption of fats and oils highest in Vitamin E such as wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, and almonds. Vitamin E helps to reduce unhealthy chronic inflammation.
- Includes polyphenols, such as red wine and dark chocolate with >70% cacao. Red wine contains resveratrol, a polyphenol thought to help reduce cognitive decline.
Carotenoids have antioxidant properties that may delay the progression of dementia. They are a pre-vitamin A and are metabolized in the body to become Vitamin A.
Evidence suggests that a high intake of particular carotenoids such as lycopene- or lutein+zeaxanthin-rich may be important for reducing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) deaths.
Foods rich in carotenoids:
|Lutein and zeaxanthin||kale, spinach, basil, |
parsley, leeks, peas, squash,
pistachios, pumpkin, egg yolks,
green beans corn
|Lycopene||tomato, watermelon, |
Flavonoids are natural substances occurring in plants and vegetables and have anti-inflammatory properties.
Results published in Science Daily found older adults who consumed flavonoid-rich foods such as berries, apples, and tea were less likely to develop AD as compared with those whose intake was lower.
|Foods rich in Flavonoids||onions, kale, grapes, red wine, |
green tea, peaches, blueberries,
strawberries, cranberries, raspberries,
tomatoes, spinach, dark chocolate,
Omega-3 Fatty Acids, specifically DHA
A diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids helps to lower cholesterol. Moreover, studies find a relationship between omega-3 fatty acid DHA and its protection against dementia.
There is evidence that omega 3 fatty acids improve memory, augment recall, and increase attention following intakes of 1.7 to 2.4 grams of DHA omega-3 fatty acids per day.
|Foods high in DHA omega-3||salmon, tuna, trout, muscles,|
oysters, mackerel, sardines,
herring, salmon oil, cod liver oil,
soybean oil, canola oil.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant. Evidence supports a link between Vitamin E’s antioxidant properties and improved cognition by reducing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the damage to our brain cells by free radicals, which increases with age and occurs with disease.
Additionally, Vitamin E from food sources may be more effective than supplements, related to its bioavailability. In other words, the extent to which it can be used by the body.
|Foods rich in Vitamin E||wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, |
almonds, hazelnut oil,
sunflower oil, almond oil, hazelnuts,
Abalone, pine nuts, peanuts, salmon,
avocado, mango, kiwi
Resveratrol, a polyphenol
By definition, resveratrol is a substance found in the skins of grapes and in certain other plants, fruits, and seeds. The substance is called a polyphenol and has antioxidant properties.
Research finds the antioxidant property of resveratrol to have a positive effect on cognitive decline. In randomized controlled studies, resveratrol supplementation improved memory of participants vs placebo.
In another study, participants were given 200 mg resveratrol or a placebo for 26 weeks. At the end of the trial, 30-minute memory recall was significantly improved vs the placebo group.
|Sources of resveratrol||peanuts, pistachios, grapes, |
red and white wine, blueberries,
cranberries, dark chocolate,
Foods high in antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and omega-3s seem to play a significant role in preserving our health; in both body and mind.
Evidence is pointing to the benefits of incorporating foods rich in these substances with enhanced memory, recall, and overall cognition.
Finally, science tells us, given the right guidance and information to make smart choices, we CAN navigate through aging and stay healthy.