Health

Maintain brain health with the MIND diet

Omega-3-rich foods are great for brain health and healthy ageing

Keen to beat your grandkids at Scrabble well into old age? The MIND diet has been shown to support brain health and may protect against dementia.

By Sabrina Rogers-Anderson

Forget Atkins and the low-fat diet - the new generation of eating plans focus on future-proofing your body and mind rather than adhering to unrealistic (and often unhealthy) beauty standards.

From the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet to the blood pressure-lowering DASH diet, these evidence-based dietary regimens improve a vast range of health markers.

In addition to boosting heart health and reducing the risk of cancer, both these diets have been shown to have a protective effect on the brain.

But American researchers decided to go one step further by following 960 older adults over 10 years to identify which foods had the biggest effect on brain health.

The result is the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, which integrates elements of both the Mediterranean and DASH eating plans.

What is the MIND diet?

The MIND diet is rich in nutrients that are crucial for brain health, including omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids, flavonoids, vitamin E and folate. It also limits foods that are high in saturated and trans fats.

This healthy eating plan has been shown to have a greater effect on cognitive health than other eating styles. 

In a follow-up study, the same researchers found that strictly adhering to the MIND diet led to a 53% reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease while following it moderately reduced the risk by 35%. Other studies have not been as conclusive.

With dementia being the second leading cause of death for Australians - and the first for women - we could all use a brain boost.

And as an added (mega) bonus, the MIND diet may also reduce your risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer as well as increase your lifespan.

The best part? MIND isn’t super restrictive and includes plenty of delicious foods. Here’s everything you need to know.

Which foods are included in the MIND diet?

Unlike the DASH diet and many other eating plans, MIND doesn’t have strict guidelines when it comes to portions of specific foods.

While it offers flexibility, people who like to follow exact meal plans may find it challenging to come up with their own. 

Here are the suggested portions of brain-healthy foods to eat on the MIND diet:

Food to eat on the MIND diet

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Food Number of servingseach week Serving size (approx)
Green leafy vegetables
(such as kale, collard greens, spinach and lettuce)
At least 6 per week 1 cup
Other vegetables
(such as carrots, broccoli, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, beans and capsicum)
At least 1 per day ½ cup raw or cooked
½ medium potato or 1 medium tomato
Berries At least 2 per week ½ cup
Nuts At least 5 per week 30g
Beans
(such as beans, lentils and soybeans)
At least 4 per week ½ cup
Poultry
(not fried)
At least 2 per week 80g (cooked)
Fish
(not fried)
At least 1 per week 100g (cooked) or 1 small can
Whole grains
(such as wholemeal bread and pasta, brown rice and crispbreads)
At least 3 per day 1 slice bread or
½ cup cooked rice or pasta or 3 crispbreads
Extra virgin olive oil Used as primary oil As needed

The original MIND diet study included one glass of wine per day, but it was eliminated from later trials and recommendations for “safety” reasons.

5 foods to limit on the MIND diet

The MIND diet still allows for treats, but the following limits are recommended for foods that are high in saturated and trans fats:

Horizontal Scrolling
Food Number of servingseach week Serving size (approx)
Fried foods(such as hot chips and deep-fried fish or chicken) Less than 1 per week 12 hot chips or 1 medium fried chicken drumstick
Cheese Less than 1 per week 2 slices (40g) cheddar ½ cup ricotta
Red meat
(including beef, veal, pork and lamb)
Less than 4 servings per week 65g (cooked)
Sweets and pastries 
(such as biscuits, cakes, doughnuts and ice cream)
Less than 5 per week 2 scoops regular ice cream
2-3 sweet biscuits or 1 doughnut (40g)
Butter and margarine Less than 1 tbsp per day As needed

Sample MIND diet meal plan

While the MIND diet doesn’t have a set meal plan, here are some brain-boosting meal ideas that follow the MIND guidelines:

Day 1

Breakfast

1 cup cooked porridge

½ cup mixed berries

30g chopped walnuts

Lunch

Mediterranean chicken salad:

80g cooked skinless chicken breast

1 medium chopped tomato

½ chopped cucumber

½ cup chickpeas

¼ chopped small red onion

¼ cup chopped kalamata olives

Drizzle of olive oil and white wine vinegar

Dinner

100g grilled salmon

½ cup brown rice

Side salad with spinach, cucumber, grated carrot and tomato

Drizzle of olive oil and white wine vinegar

Snack 

2 tbsp hummus

Carrot and celery sticks

Day 2

Breakfast

1 slice wholemeal toast

1 tsp almond butter

2 scrambled eggs

Lunch

Fish tacos:

3 mini wholemeal tortillas

100g cooked white fish

Pinch of chilli powder

Pinch of garlic powder

Salt to taste

½ diced avocado (to serve)

½ cup slaw (to serve)

¼ cup chopped coriander (to serve)

Dinner

½ cup cooked wholemeal spaghetti

6 turkey meatballs (80g cooked)

1 cup marinara sauce

Side salad with leafy greens veggies of your choice

Drizzle of olive oil and white wine vinegar  

Snack 

¾ cup Greek yoghurt

½ cup berries of your choice

For more inspiration, check out our Mediterranean and DASH diet recipes. You can make them more MIND-friendly by adding brain-healthy berries and using extra virgin olive oil as your primary drizzling and cooking oil.

A few simple tweaks to your diet could help keep your mind sharp and your sudoku skills on point for years to come.

The information on this page is general information and should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Do not use the information found on this page as a substitute for professional health care advice. Any information you find on this page or on external sites which are linked to on this page should be verified with your professional healthcare provider.

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