MIND diet and potential cognitive benefits


Dear Dietitian,

Recently you had a column that mentioned the MIND diet, which supposedly lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s. Can you explain more about that diet?


Dear Rob,

I’d be happy to expand on the MIND diet. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH intervention for neurodegenerative delay. It is a mix of Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. The MIND regimen focuses on fruits (especially berries), vegetables, olive oil and whole grains. Protein sources are fatty fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. Red meat, cheese and sweets are limited, and fried foods are highly discouraged. One glass of wine is permitted daily.

The diet was developed at Rush University in Chicago. In a study of 923 older adults, ages 58 to 98 years, those who followed the MIND diet closely had a 53% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) than those who followed a regular diet. Interestingly, people who followed the MIND diet only enjoyed a 35% decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s (1).

It isn’t known how the MIND diet diminishes the risk of AD. Three factors may contribute. The first thought is that it reduces the damage caused by free radicals, which are unstable molecules produced during normal metabolism. In their quest for stability, free radicals damage healthy cells in a process called oxidative stress. Foods in the MIND food plan are high in antioxidants, which help protect the body from such damage.

The second way the MIND diet may protect the brain is by reducing Beta-amyloids, fragmented proteins found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The role Beta-amyloids play in AD isn’t clear. Diets high in cholesterol and saturated fats tend to be high in Beta-amyloid production.

The third successful component of the MIND plan is decreased inflammation. Certain foods may contribute to mild inflammation, which may contribute to chronic diseases, such as heart disease and AD. The antioxidant and omega-3-containing foods in the MIND diet have anti-inflammatory effects on the body.

If the MIND diet reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, does it also lower the risk of other types of dementia? We don’t know for sure, but it is promising. In another study of 960 adults, those who followed the MIND plan the closest had a reduced cognitive decline equivalent to 7.5 years younger in age, so don’t give up your dream of being a Jeopardy contestant (2).

Finally, it’s important to note that the research on the MIND diet has been observational, which does not show cause and effect. A randomized, controlled study is underway to see if the MIND diet has a cause-and-effect impact on Alzheimer’s Disease. The results of that study have not yet been published, so stay tuned!

Until next time, be healthy!

Dear Dietitian


1. Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. Mind diet associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2015 Sep; 11(9): 1007–1014. Published online 2015 Feb 11. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2014.11.009

2. Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Barnes LL, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimers Dement. 2015 Sep;11(9):1015-22. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2015.04.011. Epub 2015 Jun 15. PMID: 26086182; PMCID: PMC4581900.

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