MIND Diet: Best Foods to Eat to Keep Your Brain Young
As we get older, keeping our brain healthy becomes top of mind for many (pun intended). Even still, one out of every five Americans over age 65 have a mild cognitive impairment, and one in every seven has been diagnosed with dementia. Though we aren't always sure of the cause, lifestyle factors can help or hurt our level of risk. Things like eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise can slash your risk. Here we dive into a diet known for its brain-protecting properties: the MIND Diet.
What Is the MIND Diet?
The MIND diet is based on the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet—two healthy eating plans in their own right. The MIND diet focuses specifically on foods that can help your brain and reduce your risk of Alzheimer's and dementia. Over decades of research, nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, Sc.D., and her colleagues at Rush University Medical Center identified 10 key foods associated with better brain function and a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease. Each of these foods is rich in compounds that have been shown to protect and nourish the brain.
Related: Your Anti-Aging Diet
MIND Diet Food List
Here's what to eat more of each week on the MIND diet.
1. Whole Grains
Pictured recipe: Farro Salad with Cranberries and Persimmons
You should eat: ≥21 servings (3 per day). One serving is ½ cup cooked grains.
Whole grains are the cornerstone of a healthy eating pattern. They can help reduce your risk of heart disease, manage diabetes, promote weight loss and protect your brain, too. Plus, they come in many shapes and forms, making them super versatile. Brown rice, oats and other whole grains are high in magnesium, which helps brain cells use energy.
2. Leafy Greens
Pictured recipe: Sautéed Broccoli & Kale with Toasted Garlic Butter
You should eat: ≥6 servings/week. One serving is 2 cups raw greens or 1 cup cooked greens.
It might not be too surprising that nutrient-dense leafy greens like kale, spinach, collards and chard are packed with health benefits. When it comes to brain health, they are a must-have. Greens contain antioxidants including beta carotene and folate, and they are also rich in vitamin K, which is used to make brain cell membranes.
Pictured recipe: Berry-Almond Smoothie Bowl
You should eat: ≥2 servings/week. One serving is 1 cup of berries.
Not only are berries delicious, but also they are powerhouses of antioxidants. Berries contain flavonoids, which strengthen connections between neurons, making it easier for them to communicate.
Pictured recipe: Dark Chocolate Trail Mix
You should eat: ≥5 servings/week. One serving is 1 ounce of nuts or about 24 almonds or 49 pistachios.
Nuts like almonds are perfect for a fiber-rich filling snack that helps keep hunger at bay. They also boast some impressive health benefits, too. Almonds are high in vitamin E, an antioxidant that absorbs damaging free radicals surrounding brain cells, while walnuts contain anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats.
Pictured recipe: Composed Bean Salad with Basil Vinaigrette
You should eat: ≥4 servings/week. One serving of beans is ½ cup cooked.
Many beans, including chickpeas, navy beans and pinto beans, are rich in magnesium, which helps brain cells use energy.
Pictured recipe: Rainbow Buddha Bowl with Cashew Tahini Sauce
You should eat: ≥7 servings/week (1 per day). One serving of vegetables is 1 cup or 2 cups of raw greens.
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting 2 1/2 cups of vegetables per day. The MIND diet also places high value on eating your veggies for good reason. Vegetables are full of vitamins, including folate. In a 2012 study, women with Alzheimer's plaques and higher folate levels had fewer dementia symptoms. Another study found that eating five or more servings per day helped ward off dementia risk by decreasing inflammation and improving heart health, both of which help improve brain vascularity.
Pictured recipe: Classic Sangria
You should drink: ≥7 servings/week (5 oz. a day). One serving of wine is 5 ounces.
Yes, there are health benefits of moderate wine consumption. We will cheers to that! It's still unclear why one serving of wine a day is good for the brain, but take note: more than one glass a day seems to do more damage than good.
Pictured recipe: One-Skillet Salmon with Fennel & Sun-Dried Tomato Couscous
You should eat: ≥1 serving/week. One serving of fish is 4 ounces cooked.
Oily fish are excellent sources of omega-3 fats, which reduce inflammation and are used to build the brain's solid matter.
Pictured recipe: Roast Chicken and Sweet Potatoes
You should eat: ≥2 servings/week. One serving of chicken or turkey is 3 ounces cooked.
Poultry is rich in choline, a B vitamin that is important for brain development and, according to a 2011 study, could protect against dementia.
10. Olive Oil
Pictured recipe: Grilled Summer Vegetables with Shallot-Herb Vinaigrette
You should: Use as your primary cooking oil.
Olive oil is a central part of the Mediterranean diet, and its health benefits extend to the brain. Olive oil is rich in oleocanthol, a compound that calms the inflammatory enzymes COX-1 and COX-2. Other studies have shown that older adults who regularly consume olive oil has the most successful aging index scores.
The MIND diet is a mix of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, with a specific focus on brain health. Beyond a general healthy eating pattern, prioritizing these ten foods can help slash your dementia risk. For more, check out these foods to limit to help keep your mind sharp.