The MIND Diet: Recipes & Food List

The MIND Diet: Recipes & Food List

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

What if I told you that you could eat your way to a healthier brain? And no, I’m not give you the usual line that “A healthy diet equals a healthy brain.” I’m talking about a specific eating strategy that’s been growing in popularity in recent years.

A large body of research shows that choosing certain antioxidant-rich, nutrient-dense foods (and avoiding others) can significantly impact cognitive health. And what’s good for your brain is good for your heart (and vice versa)—so this diet is also terrific for heart health!

What is this amazing “sounds too good to be true” diet? If you guessed the MIND diet, congratulations! Here’s the lowdown on how this brilliant diet works, a list of foods to eat (and foods to avoid)–plus, a recipe you can follow to get you started.

What is the MIND diet?

Woman sitting on couch thinking of starting the MIND diet

The acronym “MIND” stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, and most experts see it as a hybrid between the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. There are a few subtle differences, though. The Mediterranean and DASH diets both encourage people to consume a variety of fruits, with no limit on starchy vegetables. The MIND diet does the same, but its primary focus is on encouraging foods that have been shown to positively affect the brain.

“While it’s a combination of these two well-known diets, the MIND diet has specific modifications that reflect the most compelling scientific evidence on foods and nutrients that protect the brain, effectively impacting overall cognitive health and performance,” explained Life Extension’s Education Specialist, Dr. Crystal M. Gossard, DCN.

Some of this evidence comes from the Rush Memory and Aging Project, which studied age-related cognitive decline. Results of the study showed that the rate of decline among those who consumed one to two servings per day of leafy greens was the equivalent of being 11 years younger in age compared with those who rarely or never consumed green leafy vegetables.

For that reason, the MIND diet specifically calls for green leafy vegetables, berries and other foods thought to slow down cognitive decline. And unlike the Mediterranean and DASH diets, which suggest enjoying all foods in moderation is appropriate, it also places an unequivocal restriction on cheese, butter/margarine and fast fried foods.

What are the pros and cons of the MIND diet?

Woman on scale excited about her weight loss

The biggest “pro” of the MIND diet is that the foods fuel a healthy brain. In addition, it emphasizes a diet rich in vitamins, healthy fats and other nutrients—all of which support whole-body health, not just cognitive health. But the benefits don’t end there. According to registered dietitian Holli Ryan, RD, LD/N, an added bonus of the MIND diet may be weight loss (even though that’s not what the diet was developed for).

“It may lead to weight loss since it restricts certain fats and even some fruits,” Ryan explained. “However, watching portion sizes is still important as the diet does allow things like nuts, oils, beans and grains.”

That being said, the MIND diet does have a few downsides. Ryan said the diet’s biggest con is that it may be considered restrictive. In addition, the high amounts of vitamin K found in the recommended amounts of leafy greens may be too much for people taking warfarin/Coumadin medications, so talk to your doctor before trying this diet if you are on such a medication.

What to eat on the MIND diet

You don’t need to be a genius to follow the MIND diet! Just stick to these do’s and don’ts…and you’ll be on your way to nourishing your brain. And don't forget, the brain and gut are connected, so nourishing your digestive system with gut health supplements will help too!

10 MIND diet foods to eat

A number of raw vegetables and nuts apart of the MIND diet
  • Green, leafy vegetables—Eat one to two servings a day of kale, Brussels sprouts, spinach, arugula, Bok choy, collard greens, cabbage, watercress, beet greens, Romaine lettuce, Swiss chard or turnip greens.
  • More vegetables—You’ll also want to include at least one daily serving of broccoli, asparagus, artichoke, or cauliflower.
  • Berries—Think blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries—and be sure to have at least two servings per week, since they are berry good for your brain!
  • Nuts—The MIND diet recommends at least five servings per week of walnuts, almonds, or hazelnuts.
  • Healthy cooking fat (EVOO)Olive oil is a centerpiece of this diet. Why? Extra virgin olive oil is cold pressed (it’s not processed or refined) and can withstand high temperatures without becoming saturated. It is also high in beneficial polyphenols.
  • Whole grains—Look for minimally processed oats, quinoa, barley, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and 100% whole-wheat bread—enjoy up to three servings a day.
  • Legumes—Whether in a soup or salad, peas, lentils, chickpeas, or soybeans are a must! Aim for four servings per week.
  • Fatty fish—Make sure you get at least one serving per week of salmon, sardines, trout or tuna. They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for a healthy brain.
  • Lean poultry—Not fried chicken, of course! Aim for at least two servings per week.
  • Red wine—That’s right! You can have a glass of wine with dinner (not more than one serving a day, though). Antioxidant-rich resveratrol is the key component in wine and why it’s included in the MIND diet.

5 MIND diet foods to avoid

  • Butter and margarine—Avoid these unhealthy fats as much as possible. As Ryan explained, “the thought behind limiting these types of fats is because of their high content of saturated fats, which aren’t good for brain (or heart) health when consumed in excess.” If you do find yourself craving that buttery flavor, grass-fed butter or ghee are both higher in unsaturated fats.
  • Cheese—Whether it’s soft, hard or low-fat cheese, limit it to one or fewer servings per week.
  • Fried and processed foods—The MIND diet strongly discourages these types of foods. They don’t hold any nutritional value for your brain or your body.
  • Pastries, sweets and baked goods—Try to have less than one serving a week.

MIND Diet Recipe: Sautéed Veggie Bowl

Woman on couch enjoying MIND-friendly meal

I worked closely with Holli Ryan, RD, LD/N, to put together this delicious, easy-to-make veggie bowl. This makes 2-4 servings that can be enjoyed right away–or double the ingredients to batch cook for the entire week!

Sautéed veggie bowl

Man preparing vegetables for a sautéed veggie bowl

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium leek
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 4 ¾ cup of spinach
  • 1 ¾ cup of mushrooms
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 red or orange bell pepper
  • ½ pound of Brussels sprouts
  • ½ pound of cherry tomatoes
  • ½ cup of shaved almonds or crushed hazelnuts (or walnuts)
  • 3 tablespoons of coconut amino acids or tamari
  • Smoked paprika, turmeric, cumin and black pepper
  • Optional: 1 pound of ground chicken or turkey (thawed and ready to cook)

Tip: Always look for coconut amino acids that have low sodium and no added sugars.

Prep it: About 35 mins

Note: Make sure you wash and disinfect your produce. You can do this with a fruit and vegetable spray you’ll find at your local grocery store or by submerging your veggies for a couple of minutes in water with two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar.

  1. On your cutting board, start by peeling and mincing the garlic and thin slicing the leek. Transfer them to a small bowl.
  2. Once all your veggies are clean, it’s time to chop them up!
  3. Dice your tomatoes, zucchini and bell pepper, and transfer them to a separate bowl.

Cook it: About 45 – 50 mins

When you have all your ingredients ready to go, the fun starts. As my grandmother always says, the first (and crucial) step is to make your “refrito.” It’s a Spanish word for sautéing your minced garlic and onion. This step is crucial because it allows you to add color and flavor to your meals.

  1. Place a large pan or sautéing pan on your stove on medium heat.
  2. Pour EVOO and let it warm up for a few seconds.
  3. Add the leek, garlic and all the spices (to your preference). Cook until onions are soft.
  4. Add the chicken. Cover and cook on medium/low until chicken is thoroughly cooked. Stir occasionally. (Can skip this step)
  5. Add the Brussels sprouts, zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers and coconut amino acids. Cover and let cook for three to four minutes.
  6. Remove the cover and sprinkle on your almonds and stir. Cook for a couple of minutes.
  7. Fold your spinach in with the other food items. Cook until spinach is soft.
  8. Remove from heat and cool before serving.
  9. Enjoy!

Tip: You can also add quinoa to this dish or have it with whole-grain pasta.

References