The MIND Diet: Brain Food For Everyone

The MIND Diet: Brain Food for EveryoneThe food we eat not only helps our bodies stay strong and healthy but affects how we think and behave. Recently, researchers found that children who followed the MIND diet were better able to resist distractive stimuli than children who followed the USDA’s Healthy Eating Index. This finding is exciting — it suggests that the MIND diet, originally developed for adults to maintain brain health and cognitive function as they age, also has the potential to improve children’s cognitive development and meaningfully impact their brain health and behavior.

In this article, I explain the basics of the MIND diet and suggest some simple ways to incorporate it into your family’s day-to-day life. The more “good brain food” choices we make every day the greater the likelihood we set our kids (and us!) up for a healthy and meaningful life.

What Is the MIND Diet?

MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurogenerative Delay. The MIND diet combines the Mediterranean diet with the heart-healthy Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (“DASH”) to create dietary recommendations that focus on a healthy brain. The MIND diet was published in 2015 in the journal Alzheimers & Dementia. It arose out of a study of 923 older adult volunteers, and the study showed that the diet reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 53% in those who followed the diet rigorously, and by around 35% in those who followed it moderately well (Morris et al. 7). In addition to providing long-term cognitive benefits, the MIND diet also offers cardiovascular benefits. Given these truly impressive results, it makes sense that the MIND diet has consistently ranked among the top ones since its publication.

Read the full article including specific food recommendations on our website.

The MIND diet focuses on foods that contain nutrients that have been found to have the biggest effect on brain health, including: vitamin E, DHA (a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in cold-water fish), folate (vitamin B9), vitamin B12, unsaturated fats (found in olive oil, nuts, olives, and avocados), carotenoids (act as antioxidants that protect cells from free-radical damage and are abundant in leafy green vegetables, and yellow, orange and red fruits and vegetables), polyphenols (compounds found in plants that scavenge free radicals and can help repair DNA damage), and vitamin D. (Morris et al. 20-25). It emphasizes vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, and legumes like beans, lentils, and peas. It also includes recommendations for specific foods, such as leafy greens and berries, which promote brain health. Under the MIND diet, there’s a point system you can follow to see how closely you’re following the plan, or you can simply eat more of the beneficial “Foods to Choose” and less of the “Foods to Limit.”

Foods to Choose:

  • Leafy Green Vegetables: Spinach, kale, collards, swiss chard, romaine lettuce, mixed greens, etc. (Not included: Iceberg lettuce)

  • Other Vegetables: Asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, etc. (Not included: White potatoes)

  • Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. (Not included: Dried berries and cranberry sauce)

  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

  • Nuts & Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, cashews, peanuts, pistachios, pumpkin, chia, flax, sunflower seeds etc. (Not included: Nut milks, nut yogurt, candied nuts, powdered peanut butter)

  • Fish & Seafood: Salmon, sardines, and anchovies are great choices because they have some of the highest omega-3 fatty acids and lowest levels of mercury. (Not included: Fried fish or fried shellfish)

  • Poultry: White meat chicken or turkey. (Not included: Fried poultry, dark meat, duck and poultry skin)

  • Whole Grains: Whole grain breads, brown or wild rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa, popcorn, etc. (Not included: Enriched wheat products)

  • Beans & Legumes: Black, pinto, cannellini, navy, chickpeas, split peas, tofu etc. (Not included: Soy yogurt and processed soy-based meat substitutes)

Foods to Limit:

  • Red Meat & Processed Meat: Beef, pork, lamb, bacon, salami, etc. (Not included: pork loin/tenderloin)

  • Butter & Stick Margarine

  • Full Fat Cheese

  • Fried Foods: Chips, fries, fried meats, etc. (Not included: sauteed or air fried foods)

  • Sweets, Pastries & Sweet Drinks: Cakes, pies, cookies, candy, ice cream, sugar-sweetened beverages, energy drinks, etc.

The MIND diet notes that there are a lot of foods that you may want to include that are not officially included on these lists, like milk and yogurt (which were not shown to be positively or negatively associated with cognition).

The MIND Diet Benefits Adults and Kids

As I mentioned, the MIND diet has been a success in the older adult population. Older adults who follow it tend to have improved cognitive function, slower cognitive decline, decreased risk of dementia and even fewer depressive symptoms.

The MIND diet hasn’t been studied nearly as much in children, but the couple of studies we have so far are very encouraging. A recent pediatric study has shown a reduced risk of obesity in school-aged children who followed the MIND diet. Additionally, the 2023 study that looked at how the MIND diet was related to kids’ ability to focus showed a positive association between the two. The study’s 85 participants ranged in age from 7 to 11 years old and they completed a seven-day diet record from which the researchers calculated Healthy Eating Index (HEI) scores and MIND diet scores. To assess attentional inhibition, participants completed a task that required spatial attention and executive control with their reaction time and accuracy recorded. (Children who had neurological disorders such as ADHD or autism were excluded from the study to reduce confounding factors.) The researchers found that MIND diet scores but not HEI scores were positively related to study participants’ performing better on the task.

According to these studies, there are measurable physical and mental benefits for kids and adults following the MIND diet!

Tips for Incorporating the MIND Diet

Chances are there are already a lot of foods on the “Foods to Choose” list that your kids already enjoy. Lean into those and see where you can make incremental changes to include even more. Here are some more ideas:

  • Summer is peak berry season–encourage your kids to gobble them up! Eat them plain, or even freeze them in DIY coconut water popsicles for a hot day.

  • Wash and chop greens in advance (or buy pre-washed) so they’re easy to add to meals.

  • Consider incorporating some vegetables into every meal. For breakfast, it can be tricky, but consider trying savory options, including whole grain savory porridges or soups occasionally.

  • Cook a batch of beans at the beginning of the week so it’s easy to add them to meals whole, smashed with sauteed garlic and onion, or to salads.

  • When planning a meal, the MIND diet suggests the visual tool of filling ½ the plate with leafy greens and other nonstarchy vegetables, ¼ of the plate with lean protein, ¼ of the plate with healthy carbs like whole grains or beans, and a tablespoon or two of unsaturated fats.

  • Check out these free recipes from the MIND diet.

I suggest keeping a broad view of the MIND diet and not getting hung up on the minutiae. Every “good brain food” choice you and your kids make is a win, and all those good choices add up to benefits over the long term!

If you’d like to talk more about the MIND diet or ways to encourage your kids to eat more “Foods to Choose,” we’re eager to answer your questions.

Work Cited
Morris, M.C., Morris, L. & Ventrelle, J. Little, Brown Spark 2023. The Official Mind Diet: A Scientifically-Based Program to Lose Weight and Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease.

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