- The MIND diet is designed to help prevent cognitive decline such as Alzheimer’s disease as we age.
- It’s similar to the Mediterranean diet, but recommends more specific foods like berries and greens.
- Start following the MIND diet with simple steps like adding a few servings of veggies each week.
A simple, Mediterranean-style eating plan may be one of the best ways to protect your brain (and body) as you age, and experts say you can start with easy additions to your grocery list and meal routine.
The MIND diet — which stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay — incorporates elements of the notably healthy Mediterranean diet and heart-healthy DASH diet, along with foods linked to preventing cognitive decline as we age.
It’s been ranked one of the healthiest ways to eat, alongside the Mediterranean diet, and is a similarly non-restrictive, flexible eating plan. It was developed by a team of Harvard and Rush University researchers led by epidemiology professor Dr. Martha Clare Morris, who died in 2020.
Her daughter, Laura Morris, is a chef, personal trainer, who has carried on her work, co-authoring “The Official MIND Diet.”
She told Business Insider that what separates it from other Mediterranean-style diets and similar health eating plans is that it offers more specific recommendations with 10 food groups to eat more of, which include leafy greens, other veggies, berries, olive oil, nuts and seeds, fish, chicken, whole grains, beans, and wine (in moderation).
The recommendations are based on research about which foods, nutrients, and eating patterns can help prevent health issues like dementia, and are good for overall longevity too, according to Morris.
The MIND diet focuses on helping you add more foods that benefit cognitive function, while gradually reducing foods linked to worse brain health, like red meat and sweets. What’s distinct is that you aren’t expected to cut out your favorite foods entirely, said Jennifer Ventrelle, a registered dietitian who co-authored the “The Official MIND Diet.”
“As a diet, people probably expect a strict set of rules but we’ve written it so the idea is to start as you are,” she told Business Insider.
Whether you’re new to healthy eating. or an established nutrition nerd, Ventrelle and Morris offer a week-to-week guide on how to follow the MIND diet without turning your life or kitchen upside down.
To get started, assess what you’re currently eating, add a few extra servings of specific foods each week, and build up gradually to avoid common beginner mistakes like doing too much too soon, or becoming restrictive with your eating.
Start by tracking what you’re already eating
The first step of starting the MIND diet doesn’t even require a trip to the grocery. Before you jump in, Ventrelle and Morris recommend keeping a log of what you eat, so you can assess how your typical habits compare to the recommendations.
From there, you can start reducing a little at a time, such as cutting out a few servings per week of processed or fried food, and gradually adding more recommended foods.
“You don’t know what to change if you don’t know what the problem is,” Morris said.
Add brain-healthy foods like berries and greens to what you’re already eating
One distinct feature of the MIND diet is that instead of banning foods or focusing on what you can’t eat, it emphasizes adding foods to improve your health (and even lose weight, if that’s a goal).
That means you can incorporate the MIND diet into your current habits by building on meals and snacks you typically enjoy, like adding a handful of berries to your morning yogurt or blending some greens into a shake.
“It’s not meant to say you can only eat the 10 foods on the list and stay away from the foods on the list to limit,” Ventrelle said.
Focus on a few servings of healthy foods per week
While the MIND diet is relatively simple, trying to change everything at once can be overwhelming. Ventrelle said she still uses simple tools like the MIND diet tracker at home to help her improve over time. Begin with a small shift in a single category at a time, such as eating fewer servings of red meat or more helpings of berries. That way, you can build progress over time.
“Pick one or two things to change, and find very specific and measurable ways to change. Give yourself some grace,” Morris said.
Don’t wait — right now is the best time to start the MIND diet
The MIND diet can be beneficial at just about any age, since brain changes can begin as early as your 30s, according to Morris. And while the diet can’t reverse Alzheimer’s disease, evidence suggests it may be protective in older adults, too.
“There is no right time. It’s never too early or too late,” she said.
Don’t worry about being perfect
Before you panic about checking off every box on the MIND diet guide, know that it isn’t an all-or-nothing endeavor. Research suggests the benefits of the MIND diet can happen on a spectrum so making some small changes can protect your brain even if you don’t manage to get exactly the right servings of every food each week.
“You can absolutely still follow it if it’s not perfect. The idea is to improve where you are,” Morris said.