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What is the MIND diet and how can it help your brain?

Eating a particular diet could benefit your brain health and protect against disease. (Getty Images)
Eating a particular diet could benefit your brain health and protect against disease. (Getty Images)

Healthy eating is something we should all be striving for, as it helps keep our physical wellbeing in good shape and ensures normal bodily functions. But what about eating for our mind?

There is some evidence that eating a diet rich in certain vitamins, carotenoids and flavonoids can help protect your brain health, specifically as we age and become more vulnerable to illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The MIND diet is hailed for preserving cognitive function. According to the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT), the MIND diet stands for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.

Aside from benefiting brain health, this diet - which combines components of the highly reputable Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet - may also aid in lowering the risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.

Researchers at Rush University in Chicago, who created the MIND diet, claimed that it could "significantly lower a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease".

Plant-based foods like leafy greens and whole grains feature heavily in the MIND diet. (Getty Images)
Plant-based foods like leafy greens and whole grains feature heavily in the MIND diet. (Getty Images)

Martha Clare Morris, nutritional epidemiologist and one of the researchers who developed the diet, said that their study showed it "lowered the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53% in participants who adhered to the diet rigorously".

Even those who didn’t stick to the diet strictly reaped the benefits, with the risk of developing the disease lowered by about 35%, according to Morris.

What can you eat in the MIND diet?

Because the MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, there is a lot of emphasis placed on plant-based foods that are minimally processed. Meanwhile, it limits animal-based foods, as they are high in saturated fats, as well as foods with added sugars.

Sophie Bertrand, registered nutritionist for ARVRA, explains: "Both these diets have been associated with reduced risk of several diseases including heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

"The main foods encouraged in the diet include: All vegetables, particularly leafy green, berries, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, fish, beans and poultry. Foods to be avoided include butter and margarine, cheese, red meat, fried food, sweets and pastries."

According to BANT, the MIND diet guidelines include:

  • Three or more servings a day of whole grains

  • One or more servings a day of vegetables (other than leafy greens)

  • Six or more servings a week of leafy green vegetables

  • Five or more servings a week of nuts

  • Four or more meals a week of beans

  • Two or more servings a week of berries

  • Two or more meals a week of poultry

  • One or more meals a week of fish

It also recommends using olive oil, and reducing your intake of foods that are higher in saturated and trans fat, as well as limiting alcohol and food and drinks with sugar.

Can the MIND diet protect your brain?

Morris developed the MIND diet in 2015 based on past research about which foods and nutrients have an impact, both good and bad, on the brain’s function over time.

Her study found that the longer a person sticks to the MIND diet, the less risk they have of developing Alzheimer’s disease. She said: "You’ll be healthier if you’ve been doing the right thing for a long time."

Bertrand tells Yahoo UK: "According to research, eating more of the recommended foods and less of the foods that are advised to be avoided, has been associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well as improved brain function over time.

"Following the Mediterranean style and DASH diet has also been associated with lower levels of oxidative stress and inflammation."

She adds that while there is "no miracle way of eating, or a ‘one size fits all’ approach", the MIND diet "prioritises nutrient dense foods and well balanced eating which has been shown to support overall health and healthy brain function".

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