The MIND diet is a new brain-healthy diet that helps reduce Alzheimer’s risk while boosting overall cognitive and mental health. Learn how, start now.
There’s exciting news about a relatively new diet known as the MIND diet.
The findings of a large clinical study have shown great promise for this diet’s cognitive and mental health benefits, especially in regards to Alzheimer’s disease.
Finding the key to preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most pressing medical needs of our time.
Alzheimer’s is currently the sixth leading cause of death and is the only top 10 cause that cannot be prevented, adequately treated, or cured. (1)
But now, the MIND diet has shown that it can significantly reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
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In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at exactly what the MIND diet is and why researchers are hopeful about its positive impact on brain health and performance.
This diet is NOT just for seniors — it’s for anyone who wants better thinking, mood, and productivity now.
Finally, we’ll give you all the information you need to implement this way of eating, including dozens of delicious MIND diet recipes.
What Is the MIND Diet?
The MIND diet is a fusion of two diets considered to be among the most healthy, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.
The Mediterranean diet is one of the most popular and widely researched ways of eating.
It emphasizes vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, olive oil, and red wine.
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) was developed by the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for treating high blood pressure.
It also centers around eating whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, but, unlike the Mediterranean diet, is a low-sodium diet.
A research team at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center combined the best of both diets into one and then set out to prove, or disprove, its ability to prevent Alzheimer’s.
Originally it was called the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet, but was shortened to the MIND diet.
The MIND Diet: What the Research Shows
To gather data for this diet, researchers reviewed the diets of volunteers already enrolled in the Rush Memory and Aging Project which had been studying seniors in Chicago since 1997. (2)
Over 900 people between the ages of 58 and 98 were tracked for several years. (3)
Questionnaires were used to assess participants’ diets and neurological testing was done to monitor their cognitive health.
The study, which was published in 2015, found that those who rigorously followed the MIND diet reduced their risk for Alzheimer’s by 53%.
One of the surprising findings was that participants did not have to follow the diet strictly to reap significant benefits.
Even those who made only modest changes to their diets still reduced their Alzheimer’s risk by 35%.
However, the longer and more closely the MIND diet was followed, the better the outcome.
Those who most closely followed the diet’s recommendations had brains equivalent to someone 7.5 years younger.
How the MIND Diet Compares to Similar Diets
Not all Rush Memory and Aging Project study participants followed the MIND diet.
Some followed a Mediterranean diet, while others followed the DASH diet.
Those who followed the Mediterranean diet showed a 54% reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s — a slight improvement over the MIND diet. (4)
But the MIND diet was considered most effective overall since it helped even when not followed exactly, which was not the case with the Mediterranean diet.
The DASH diet came in third with a 39% reduction in Alzheimer’s risk.
MIND Diet Basic Principles
Following the core principles of the MIND diet won’t just help protect you against Alzheimer’s, it will help you achieve and maintain good brain health and performance now.
The principles behind the MIND diet are simple.
Foods are divided into two groups — those to include in your diet and those to avoid or minimize.
Here’s a list of both sets of recommendations:
10 Groups of Foods to Include in the MIND Diet
- Whole grains — 3 or more servings per day
- Green leafy vegetables — 6 servings per week
- Other vegetables — 1 serving per day
- Nuts — 5 servings per week
- Berries — 2 or more servings per week
- Beans or legumes — 3 or more servings per week
- Fish — 1 or more serving per week
- Poultry — 2 or more servings per week
- Wine — 1 serving per day
- Olive oil — use as the main cooking oil
5 Groups of Foods to Minimize in the MIND Diet
- Pastries and sweets — less than 5 servings per week
- Red meat — less than 4 servings per week
- Cheese — less than 1 serving per week
- Fried or fast food — less than 1 serving per week
- Butter and margarine — less than 1 tablespoon per day
This graphic illustrates the MIND diet principles:
How the MIND Diet Protects Against Alzheimer’s
Obviously, eating more veggies and fewer pastries is a good health move, but exactly how the MIND diet reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s is not fully understood.
Here are some of the most likely explanations for how the diet slows mental decline.
The MIND Diet Is High in Brain-Protective Vitamins
A diet high in plant-based foods will be high in the vitamins needed to help prevent cognitive impairment.
Both vitamins C and E are antioxidants which protect the brain from free radical damage, and together they have a powerful synergistic effect.
A large study confirmed that vitamin C combined with vitamin E can prevent memory loss and considerably lower the risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia. (5)
Vitamin C acts as a powerful detoxifier that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier to remove metals like aluminum, which has long been suspected of contributing to Alzheimer’s, from the brain. (6, 7)
A landmark University of Oxford study found that vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid, which are abundant in green leafy vegetables, work together to reduce brain atrophy, improve brain function, and dramatically reduce brain shrinkage in the region of the brain most affected by Alzheimer’s. (8)
Vitamin K, another vitamin found mainly in green vegetables, is also believed to play a role in preventing Alzheimer’s. (9)
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The MIND Diet Makes Berries a Top Priority
Unlike the Mediterranean and DASH diets, the MIND diet stresses the importance of eating berries as opposed to other kinds of fruit.
Berries of all kinds, especially blueberries and strawberries, are the only fruits proven in studies to decrease neuron loss and improve memory. (10)
Flavonoids in berries have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which address two suspected underlying causes of Alzheimer’s. (11)
Flavonoids called anthocyanins are responsible for berries’ vibrant colors and are linked to the improvement of a wide range of cognitive skills. (12)
Berries also contain phytonutrients that clear the brain of toxic proteins believed to contribute to Alzheimer’s. (13)
The MIND Diet Recommends Eating Fish
Fish is an excellent source of vitamin B12 and omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Long-term B12 deficiency can cause both psychiatric and neurological disorders. (16)
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are essential for brain health and function.
One particular omega-3, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), is a major building block of the brain.
The MIND Diet Minimizes Sugar, Trans Fats, and Fast Food
When you reduce your consumption of sweets and fast food as suggested in the MIND diet, you will automatically reduce the amount of sugar and trans fats you consume.
And that is great news for your brain.
Excess consumption of refined carbohydrates such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and white flour contributes to insulin resistance and diabetes.
Even in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s, the brain’s ability to metabolize glucose, its main source of energy, is compromised.
Insulin becomes less effective in helping the brain take up sugar from the blood and eventually brain cells start to starve to death. (19)
Alzheimer’s disease is now considered by some researchers to be a third form of diabetes. (20)
Trans fats are the kind found in hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils.
These dangerous fats have been linked to many of the most deadly diseases including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. (21)
Even a moderate intake of trans fats can double your risk for Alzheimer’s. (22)
Many countries have already banned trans fats.
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration has given food manufacturers until January 1, 2021 to remove them from fast food and processed foods. (23)
The MIND diet recommends that you shelve polyunsaturated vegetable oils like canola, safflower, and soy oil.
These oils are processed with heat and chemicals which create trans fats before you’ve even opened the bottle. (24)
One study found that store-bought canola oil contained up to 4.2% trans fats. (25)
It’s recommended that you use olive oil instead, even for cooking.
In spite of what you’re probably heard, it is perfectly safe to bake or cook with olive oil.
MIND Diet Recipes
The guidelines for the MIND diet are rather straightforward, but unfortunately, there aren’t too many places to find MIND diet recipes online.
So we contacted some brain health experts, bloggers, and cookbook authors for their favorite recipes that meet MIND diet specifications.
We’ve compiled over 40 recipes and loosely sorted them into four categories — breakfast, side dishes, main courses, and snacks and desserts.
But there’s no reason you can’t eat a side dish or two for dinner or have a snack for breakfast.
Most recipes below link to the original recipe on the contributor’s website.
A few are not found anywhere else online and are published in their entirety here.
Below each recipe link, you’ll see the key ingredients that make it good for your brain.
Besides MIND diet-friendly foods, we’ve also included foods known to be specifically brain-healthy, such as chocolate, coconut, avocado, and fermented foods.
MIND Diet Breakfast Recipes
After a night of rest, your brain needs high-quality fuel to get it charged and ready for the day.
Here’s more than a week’s worth of breakfast recipes that will help you start the morning right.
almond milk, walnuts, blueberries, coconut flour
Buckwheat Flap Jacks
buckwheat flour, almond milk, coconut oil, berries
Chicken Basil Frittata With Zucchini, Bell Peppers, and Sweet Corn
eggs, chicken, olive oil, red bell peppers
Chocolate Blueberry Smoothie
blueberries, cocoa powder
Oatmeal Black Currant Pancakes
oatmeal, black currants, walnuts
Strawberry Banana Oat Smoothie
oats, strawberries, yogurt
Super Brain Green Juice
celery, cucumber, cilantro, Swiss chard, ginger
Toasted Quinoa-Walnut Breakfast “Sundaes”
quinoa, walnuts, berries, yogurt
Triple Greens Frittata
kale, chard, spinach, red pepper, eggs
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MIND Diet Side Dish Recipes
These side dishes range from soups to salads.
They can accompany your main course at dinner or make an excellent lunch or light dinner on their own.
Arugula, Strawberry and Walnut Salad
arugula, walnuts, endive, strawberries
Barley Stuffed Tomato With Caramelized Vegetables
barley, tomatoes, onion, fennel, artichoke hearts
olive oil, basil, pine nuts
Brandon’s Roasted Broccoli
broccoli, olive oil
Cleansing Cucumber Soup
cucumber, avocado, green onion
Global Dark Leafy Greens
dino kale, red onion, pumpkin seeds
Golden Roasted Cauliflower
cauliflower, olive oil, turmeric
Ikarian Tabouli Salad
bulgur wheat, green onions, tomatoes, olive oil
Kale Caesar Salad
kale, anchovies, olive oil
Pecan Wild Rice and Goji Berry Pilaf
wild rice, brown rice, goji berries
Quinoa Kale Salad With Red Grapes
quinoa, kale, olive oil
Roasted Asparagus Salad with Arugula and Hazelnuts
asparagus, arugula, hazelnuts, olive oil
Summer Vegetable Bean Soup
brown rice, mung beans, variety of vegetables
Thai Cabbage Salad
red cabbage, mixed greens, cashews
The next recipe was contributed by Max Lugavere, bestselling author of Genius Foods, which explores the impact of diet on brain health.
This recipe doesn’t have any cheese in it — but it tastes like it does!
Kale Salad of “Cheesy” Epicness
Max says, “I love this simple salad because it combines a ton of brain-optimizing nutrients, such as carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, flavonoids like luteolin, and lots of prebiotic fiber. It is also spicy, savory, and delicious.”
- 4 cups of organic kale
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 tablespoon seasoned salt
- 3 tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
- 1 half organic red bell pepper, diced
- 1/3 cup organic broccoli sprouts
Combine everything in one bowl and toss well.
MIND Diet Main Course Recipes
According to MIND diet recommendations, you should be eating legumes three times per week, poultry twice, and seafood at least once.
Here are a few recipes featuring each of these protein sources.
Creamy Zucchini Noodles With White Lentil Spring Onion Sauce
white lentils, green onions, basil, zucchini, sunflower seeds
Ikarian Longevity Stew With Black Eyed Peas
black-eyed peas, tomato, fennel, onion, olive oil
Tuscan Baked Beans With Kale
white beans, mixed green vegetables, rosemary
turkey, olive oil, cranberries
Greek Chicken Thighs With Artichokes and Olives
chicken, olives, olive oil, artichoke hearts
Crunchy Walnut-Crusted Salmon Fillets
salmon, walnuts, olive oil
Mussels Three Ways
mussels, white wine, tomatoes, kale, pine nuts
Roasted Ginger Salmon With Pomegranate Olive Mint Salsa
salmon, olives, fennel, pomegranate, walnuts
Spinach and Cranberry Stuffed Salmon
salmon, spinach, nuts
Triple-Citrus Ginger Black Cod
cod, ginger, olive oil
Lastly, we have a recipe from neurologist and bestselling author David Perlmutter, MD.
This recipe is reprinted here with permission from his book The Grain Brain Whole Life Plan.
Steamed Wild Salmon With Sautéed Leeks and Chard
The sautéed chard makes a colorful base for the pink salmon, but you can use almost any green that is in season.
In the spring, dandelion greens will give a slightly bitter contrast to the rich, succulent fish.
- 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, preferably from grass-fed cows
- Four 6-ounce skinless, boneless wild salmon fillets
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 8 thin slices lemon
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 2 cups finely sliced leeks, white part only
- 6 cups chopped rainbow chard, tough ends removed
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Place a wire rack large enough to hold the salmon in a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.
Cut four 10-inch by 10-inch pieces of aluminum foil. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the foil with melted butter. Set aside.
Lightly season the salmon with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place a slice of lemon on each piece of foil, top with a piece of seasoned salmon, and top the salmon with another slice of lemon. Tightly wrap each foil by folding in the seam and twisting the ends together. Place the wrapped salmon pieces on the rack in the prepared baking sheet.
Place in the preheated oven and allow to steam in the foil for about 8 minutes or just until the fish is slightly underdone in the center.
While the salmon is steaming, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and sauté for about 4 minutes or until soft, but not colored. Add the chard and, using tongs, cook, tossing and turning, for about 4 more minutes or until the leeks and chard are tender. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.
Remove the salmon from the oven and carefully open the foil packets. Be cautious as the steam will be very hot.
Spoon an equal portion of the chard mixture in the center of each of four dinner plates. Place a piece of steamed salmon on top of each chard mound. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve immediately.
MIND Diet Snack and Dessert Recipes
Of course, you can grab healthy snacks that don’t need a recipe — fruit, nuts, raw veggies, and such.
But that can get a little dull.
Here you’ll find brain-healthy versions of everyone’s favorite snacks — cookies, dips, ice cream, and more.
Baba Ghanoush (Eggplant Dip)
eggplant, tahini, olive oil
Coconut and Ginger Ice Cream
coconut, almonds, ginger
Grown-Up Chocolate Pudding With Raspberries
raspberries, dark chocolate, coconut milk
No-Sugar Sesame Cookies
olive oil, sesame seeds, tahini, whole wheat
Savory Roasted Chickpeas
chickpeas, olive oil
Supercharged Trail Mix
walnuts, almonds, cashews, coconut, cacao nibs, goji berries
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Benefits vs Limitations of the MIND Diet
The benefits of the MIND diet are obvious.
It confirms that what you eat does have an positive impact on your risk of Alzheimer’s.
As these delicious recipes demonstrate, it’s no hardship to follow the diet.
Plus, you don’t have to stick to it perfectly to reap its rewards.
But there are some limitations to this diet.
No one, not even the research team behind the MIND diet, is suggesting that diet alone will prevent Alzheimer’s.
Martha Clare Morris, ScD, the MIND diet’s lead study author, admits that diet is just one of many factors in the development of this disease. (26)
Genetics and, very importantly, other lifestyle factors like smoking, exercise, and education also play a role.
She readily acknowledges that the MIND diet is a very promising start, but more research needs to be done. (27)
She fully expects that modifications will be made to the diet as the body of knowledge on the effects of diet on the brain grows.
One big problem with this study was that it relied on study participants honestly and accurately reporting what they ate.
It’s well known that people tend to underestimate how much bad food they consume and overestimate how much healthy food they eat.
Lastly, the MIND diet did not yield a significant improvement over the Mediterranean diet.
In fact, when followed correctly, the Mediterranean diet provided slightly more protection against Alzheimer’s. (28)
6 Suggested Upgrades to the MIND Diet
The MIND diet is clearly a big step in the right direction away from the standard American diet which is loaded with processed foods.
But it’s still very much a work in progress.
Here are six evidence-based changes that we hope will be incorporated into the MIND diet in future studies.
Meanwhile, there’s no reason you can’t upgrade your own diet and make these changes now.
1. Less Emphasis on Whole Wheat
Whole wheat is the most common whole grain, but it’s at the bottom of our list of grains for several reasons.
Some people find that wheat stimulates their appetite and few of us need that!
Instead, try some of the other whole grains such as amaranth, barley, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa, rye, and wild rice.
Even popcorn, one of America’s favorite snacks, qualifies as a whole grain. (34)
A tip for eating less wheat is to substitute almond flour or coconut flour in recipes that call for wheat flour.
2. More Emphasis on Healthy Fats
Coconut oil, avocado, and eggs should be added to the list of foods to include in your diet.
Your brain is largely made of fat and these foods provide the building blocks needed to create healthy brain cells.
And what’s margarine doing on the MIND Diet list!?
It’s loaded with unhealthy trans fats and should be avoided completely. (35)
Swap it out for butter or coconut oil which may reduce the beta-amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s. (36)
And while we approve of the MIND diet’s inclusion of olive oil, it needs to be specified that it must be extra virgin olive oil.
Olive oil fraud is rampant and not all olive oils provide equal health benefits.
It’s worth buying the highest quality extra virgin olive oil you can find.
3. More Emphasis on Cold-Water, Fatty Fish
Fish is widely considered to be a brain food, but not all fish are equally good for your brain.
Only fatty fish caught in cold waters contain substantial amounts of omega-3 essential fatty acids.
The best fish for your brain are salmon, herring, mackerel, halibut, and sardines. (37)
4. Include Fermented Foods
Fermented foods contain natural psychobiotics — live bacteria that offer mental health benefits.
Virtually all healthy traditional diets include fermented foods. (38)
Look for yogurt or kefir that contains live cultures, traditionally fermented soy products, and unpasteurized sauerkraut and pickled vegetables.
5. Include the Spice Turmeric
While you are free to use any herbs and spices that you enjoy, turmeric should be a “must” on the MIND diet.
Turmeric, the golden spice found in curry powder, has been linked to low levels of Alzheimer’s. (39)
It’s believed to be one of the reasons that the Alzheimer’s rate in India is less than one-quarter of that in the United States.
Curcumin, the main active compound in turmeric, has been shown to break up the beta-amyloid plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
6. Exclude Artificial Sweeteners
There is no specific mention of artificial sweeteners in the MIND diet, but the DASH diet allows the use of artificial sweeteners in moderation. (40)
But the use of chemical sweeteners is highly controversial and, until more is known about their long-term effects on the brain, we suggest you avoid them.
Instead, you can use stevia, a non-caloric sweetener that comes from a plant instead of a laboratory.
MIND Diet Resources
We hope these recipes inspire you to start cooking with your brain health in mind.
For more, we recommend that you check out these books and blogs from our recipe contributors.
You’ll find more great MIND diet-friendly recipes and additional information on how to keep your brain sharp for life.
BrainHQ is an online brain training program created by an international team of neuroscientists.
They also have a great selection of brain-healthy recipes.
Dr. Mark Hyman
Mark Hyman, MD, is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine.
He is also the New York Times bestselling author of The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First.
You’ll find hundreds of healthy recipes on his blog.
The Blue Zones is a New York Times bestseller about places in the world where people live unusually long and productive lives.
On the book’s companion blog BlueZones.com, you’ll find free online recipes that follow the Blue Zones Guidelines for longevity.
Rebecca Katz is an accomplished chef who has worked with some of the country’s top wellness leaders, including Drs. Andrew Weil, Deepak Chopra, and Dean Ornish.
Her book, The Healthy Mind Cookbook: Big-Flavor Recipes to Enhance Brain Function, Mood, Memory, and Mental Clarity, proves that you can eat food that is tasty, visually appealing, and good for your brain.
You’ll find an abundance of tempting recipes on her website.
Maggie Moon, MS, RDN, is uniquely qualified to write a MIND diet cookbook.
She is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and has culinary school training.
The MIND Diet: A Scientific Approach to Enhancing Brain Function and Helping Prevent Alzheimer’s and Dementia is one of the very few cookbooks available specifically for the MIND diet.
You’ll also find many delicious recipes on her website MIND Diet Meals.
Walnuts.org is the place to learn about eating and using walnuts.
Oldways is a nonproﬁt organization that seeks to inspire healthy eating through cultural food traditions.
A partnership between Harvard School of Public Health and the World Health Organization created the world-renowned Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.
This is the go-to place for everything you need to know about implementing and enjoying the Mediterranean way of eating.
Dr. Drew Ramsey
Drew Ramsey, MD, is one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using diet to help balance moods, sharpen brain function, and improve mental health.
He wrote the iconic book Fifty Shades of Kale.
You can learn more about using food to improve mental health at DrewRamseyMD.com.
If you’ve ever wondered how to find a high-quality olive oil or how to use it in cooking, visit OliveOilSource.com.
It’s one of the most comprehensive sources on the web for everything related to olive oil.
When you are ready to move beyond pouring olive oil on your salad, check out their creative culinary uses for olive oil.
The MIND Diet: Take the Next Step
The MIND diet combines the basic tenets of two very healthy diets, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.
Research shows that following the MIND diet rigorously can significantly reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and that following the diet even partially still provides worthwhile brain health benefits.
Our understanding of dietary influences on Alzheimer’s disease is in its infancy and there is no ultimate anti-Alzheimer’s diet yet.
For now, there is one basic principle on which all experts agree:
Eat more whole foods and fewer processed ones.
This one piece of advice is critical for anyone, at any age, who wants to have better cognitive and mental health.