Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the MIND Diet
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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the MIND Diet

Your pocket guide to 2017’s number one easiest diet to follow. 

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By Rose Hayes

The MIND Diet is the #3 best diet overall and the #1 easiest diet to follow, according to US News and World Report. What makes it so simple?

It’s not a diet of deprivation. You don’t have to go to bed dreaming about forbidden treats. You won’t feel left out at social events—and you can even say yes to happy hour since you’re allowed red wine in moderation.

Instead of deprivation, the MIND Diet encourages you to eat specific, delicious options that support your heart and brain health. You’ll be motivated to make healthy swaps because MIND Diet foods are satisfying and can lower your risk of chronic illnesses like Alzheimer’s and heart disease.

Read on to learn:

  • How the MIND Diet can help lower your disease risk
  • Which foods to enjoy, and which to avoid
  • Beginner recipes and more 
What’s the MIND Diet?

2 / 19 What’s the MIND Diet?

The MIND Diet, or Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, combines key disease-fighting principles from two other science-based diets. It blends the DASH diet, which helps to control blood pressure, and the Mediterranean Diet, which has been linked to longevity, among other health benefits.

The MIND Diet stresses 10 food groups associated with a lower risk of dementia, including nuts, berries and fatty fish. In a 2015 study, people who strictly followed this eating plan most closely had a 53 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Those who followed it “moderately well” reduced their risk by 35 percent. The MIND diet may also help you avoid other conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure.

Will you lose a lot of weight?

3 / 19 Will you lose a lot of weight?

The MIND Diet doesn’t involve rigid rules or careful counting. Instead, it prompts you to eat a minimum number of healthy foods each week. It also urges you to eat less than your weekly allowance of unhealthy foods.

The more people swap out restricted items like desserts with good stuff like fruits and nuts, the lower their disease risk. This plan was designed with Alzheimer’s prevention in mind, but filling up on brain-boosting foods means you’ll have less room for the junk that usually derails diets. The pleasant side effect is often weight loss. 

Foods to love

4 / 19 Foods to love

Keep track of your servings, and eat at least the minimum amount of these essential foods:

  • Green leafy vegetables: 6+ servings weekly
  • Other veggies like cauliflower and sweet potatoes: 1+ servings daily  
  • Fruit: No restrictions, but include at least 2+ servings of blueberries weekly
  • Whole grains: 3+ servings daily
  • Legumes: 3+ servings weekly 
  • Nuts: 5+ servings weekly  
  • Fish: At least once a week, but preferably more
  • Poultry: 2+ servings weekly 
  • Olive oil: Use daily for cooking
Foods to limit

5 / 19 Foods to limit

The less you can eat of these foods, the better. Aim for no more than:

  • Red meat: 4 servings weekly
  • Butter and margarine: 1 tablespoon daily
  • Cheese: 1 serving weekly
  • Fried or fast foods: 1 serving weekly
  • Desserts and added sugar: 5 servings weekly
  • Limit salt as well—the MIND guidelines don’t give a specific target for salt intake, but the DASH Diet recommends staying below 1,400 mg daily
How to track your weekly servings

6 / 19 How to track your weekly servings

Keeping a food journal can double your weight loss success, according to a large study from Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research. A journal can be especially helpful on the MIND Diet because it reminds you how many servings of each food you’ve already had that week.

But you might not always have time to write down what you eat. If you tend to munch on the go, consider keeping a photo journal instead. Just snap a pic of each meal with your smart phone. Later, you can swipe back to remember what you’ve had.

You could also use a food tracker app. In addition to helping you record meals, these apps often provide information about your food’s sugar and sodium content, along with other nutrition facts. 

Have whole grains for breakfast

7 / 19 Have whole grains for breakfast

Oatmeal is the ideal MIND Diet breakfast. It’s quick, easy and simply delicious when made properly. Not to mention, it has a long list of health benefits, including:

  • Helping to control blood sugar for people with diabetes
  • Lowering your total and LDL, or bad cholesterol
  • Keeping your digestion regular
  • Filling you up so you can power through your morning 

Up your whole grain intake by choosing an oatmeal mix that also contains other grains like Old Wessex 5-Grain Cereal, which cooks in less than five minutes. Another option is to mix in leftover whole grains from the night before like brown rice for extra fiber and texture.

Avoid instant oatmeal with added sugar and artificial flavors. Opt for plain rolled or steel cut oats instead. Then, choose from these healthy toppings: Berries, nuts, seeds like chia or flax, cinnamon, ground ginger, almond milk, almond or vanilla extract. 

Sprinkle in some blueberries

8 / 19 Sprinkle in some blueberries

Blueberries are the only fruit that’s specifically included in the MIND Diet. Blueberries contain flavonoids, plant compounds that give them their color. Research suggests flavonoids may improve memory by encouraging communication between brain cells.

Add blueberries to oatmeal or smoothies, or snack on them with a handful of nuts. Aim for two servings or more per week.

Make lunch leafy

9 / 19 Make lunch leafy

Lunch is the perfect time to sneak leafy greens into your routine because prewashed greens are a simple base for throw-and-go salads

Keep two to three containers of green leafy vegetables in your fridge, such as arugula, kale and watercress. In the morning, toss a handful of each green into your lunch container. Blending greens helps you get in more servings, while adding flavor and texture to your lunchbox.

Mix in a variety of other pre-cut and pre-washed veggies like shredded carrots, cabbage and broccoli for toppings. Add grains like quinoa or bulgur from the night before to bulk up your salad, and don’t forget a protein like:

  • Nuts
  • A hard boiled egg (boil and peel some eggs during Sunday meal prep sessions)
  • A frozen veggie patty (will defrost by lunch; heat in your office microwave or toaster)
  • Hummus
  • Leftover poultry from the night before  
Snack on fruit and nuts

10 / 19 Snack on fruit and nuts

Keep MIND Diet snacks visible and on-hand so the pantry and freezer don’t lead you astray:

  • Put out bowls of nuts and dried fruit—on your desk, your nightstand and anywhere else you get the munchies. Nuts can be high in calories, though, so be mindful of your servings. 
  • Keep a bowl of washed, fresh fruit on the counter for snacking too.
  • Ask your family to hide chips and packaged goods in the pantry. Keep cakes and breads in the freezer so they’re out of sight—and you have to defrost them before eating.
  • Enjoy cheese once a week.
  • Dark chocolate is great for snacking too, but check the sugar content. Limit added sugar and desserts to less than five servings weekly. 
Make fish for dinner

11 / 19 Make fish for dinner

Fish is a key brain-boosting food group. Fatty fish is especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help protect against beta-amyloid plaques, brain proteins that contribute to the development of AD. In one study, people who ate fish twice a week over six years experienced 13 percent less cognitive decline, compared to those who skipped it. People who ate it once a week had 10 percent less decline. 

Buy fish when you see it on sale. But don’t hesitate to ask the person working at the counter when it was caught and how long it’s been sitting out. The sale price isn’t worth it if the fish is no longer fresh.

Freeze your fish if you’re not planning to cook it that night. Buying whenever you see sales, and then freezing fish is a smart way to cut costs on this diet. It’ll ensure you always have fresh, affordable lean protein on-hand.

Pro tip: Salmon, tilapia, cod and catfish tend to contain fewer heavy metals like mercury. Also, tilapia and catfish are often less pricey.  

Skip the salt without sacrificing flavor

12 / 19 Skip the salt without sacrificing flavor

Spice mixes can be delicious alternatives to salt. But you still need to read the ingredients and nutrition facts since blends sometimes contain salt. 

Salt substitutes are usually safe, but check those labels too. Some substitutes contain potassium chloride, which can interfere with medications or aggravate symptoms for people with certain medical conditions like heart disease. 

If your food’s still missing something, don’t reach for the shaker. Try one of these Mediterranean inspired toppings instead:

  • Red wine or apple cider vinegar
  • Olive tapenade—check the sodium content first! 
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Peppers pickled in vinegar—not salt
  • Sliced red onions 
  • Fresh squeezed lemon 
The special question of wine

13 / 19 The special question of wine

The MIND Diet allows for one serving, or four to five ounces of wine daily, but if you’re not a drinker, don’t start just for the sake of this diet. And no, you can’t have all your weekly servings in one night. Once you move beyond “moderate” intake, experts agree alcohol will only harm your health.

While wine is technically allowed on this meal plan, researchers are still divided over whether the benefits of moderate drinking outweigh the potential risks. Some studies suggest it may help to:

  • Lower your risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke
  • Increase your HDL, or good cholesterol
  • Fend off the buildup of the brain proteins associated with AD, thanks to resveratrol, a compound found mostly in grape skins

On the other hand, a 2017 study published in The BMJ suggests even moderate alcohol intake may cause atrophy, or the shrinking, of certain brain regions involved in memory. The amount of damage found on MRI brain scans increased along with the amount of alcohol people drank. The result? Both moderate and heavy drinkers experienced some loss of lexical fluency (how many words with the same first letter they could name in one minute), compared to non-drinkers.

The bottom line: If you’re currently a drinker, reduce your intake to one serving, or four to five ounces daily—or less. Also, it’s healthier to enjoy your drink with food and friends.   

Sample breakfast: Gingerbread Pancakes

14 / 19 Sample breakfast: Gingerbread Pancakes

Oatmeal is a great morning go-to, but you can still enjoy some of the indulgent breakfasts you love—just with a healthy twist. Try these yummy, but good-for-you pancakes. They don’t need syrup, but if you use it, measure out one serving and count it towards your weekly sugar allowance. Even without syrup, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by comforting flavors like cinnamon, vanilla and clove—they taste great and they’ll make your kitchen smell amazing.

Try this scrumptious side instead of processed meats

15 / 19 Try this scrumptious side instead of processed meats

Skip the salty breakfast meats. Serve your pancakes with homemade turkey sausage instead. Mix 2 lbs lean ground turkey, 1 egg white, 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, 1 tablespoon ground sage and ½ teaspoon ground rosemary. Add red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, black pepper and garlic powder to taste. Form into patties and pan fry with olive oil.

Calories per serving: 138; 1.9 g fat; 27.3 g protein; 64 mg sodium; 0.3 g fiber; 2.2 g carbs; 1.6 g sugar

Inspired by The Everything Guide to the MIND Diet: Optimize Brain Health and Prevent Disease with Nutrient-dense Foods

Sample lunch: You Won’t Believe It’s Kale Salad

16 / 19 Sample lunch: You Won’t Believe It’s Kale Salad

This recipe is salad at its best. The dressing combines savory soy sauce (low sodium), sweet agave nectar and refreshing lemon, which isn’t just delicious, but also tenderizes the kale leaves. A blended topping of toasted pecans and dried cranberries adds crunchy, chewy texture. This is sure to be your new lunchbox favorite.

Sample dinner: One-Pan Maple Mustard Chicken and Potatoes

17 / 19 Sample dinner: One-Pan Maple Mustard Chicken and Potatoes

Gotta love one pan meals—this easy, but filling chicken and potato dish is exactly what you need at the end of a long day. A rich mustard glaze tastes too good to be diet approved, but it is (just make sure you choose low-sodium and low-sugar mustard). For a simple side, toss in some veggies—any you have on-hand—or whip them up separately on your second oven rack. Put parchment paper on a baking sheet, cover with vegetables and flavor to taste with olive oil, black pepper, garlic, lemon juice or low sodium hot sauce.

Some challenges and limitations

18 / 19 Some challenges and limitations

The MIND Diet doesn’t account for every detail of what you should and shouldn’t eat. And since it’s a new diet—the original research was published in 2015—it can be a challenge to find resources when questions come up. Invest in one or more MIND Diet cookbooks so you have a go-to source for recipes and answers.

Another challenge can be the price of key ingredients like fish, nuts, olive oil and wine. The good news is that dry ingredients like nuts and dried fruit can be bought in bulk and last for a long time. When it comes to fresh ingredients like fish and produce, buying local and in-season can cut costs. 

Learn More!

19 / 19 Learn More!

I tried the MIND Diet for one month. Find out what happened to my weight, blood pressure, mood and more. Plus, learn from my mistakes and steal some of my best tricks for success.