Halfway between the DASH diet, which fights hypertension, and the Mediterranean diet, a wellness-oriented lifestyle, the MIND diet probably represents the Holy Grail of balanced nutrition for the health of body and mind. This MIND diet was voted the best diet in the world in 2015. Its particularity? It combines two diets well known to nutrition specialists to combat neuronal decline (also known as neurodegeneration) and provide a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy oils and legumes. Zoom on this diet in vogue.
What is the MIND diet?
For starters, the MIND diet ( for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is a diet similar to the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet. This device recommends foods that have been effective in brain health studies. These foods include berries, green and leafy vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts. On the other hand, the MIND diet advises against eating red meat, butter, cheese and all foods fried with high-fat oil. According to the scientific community, this diet could help not only to lose weight and stay healthy, but also to improve cognitive function.
Created by epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, the MIND diet is described in a book (available on Amazon) that details its promises, clinical trials and expected results with the diet. As a reminder, the MIND diet is a fusion of two diets considered among the healthiest, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. You probably know it: the Mediterranean diet (or Cretan diet) is one of the most popular and studied eating modes by science. It focuses on vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, olive oil and red wine. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, meanwhile, was developed by the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) for the treatment of high blood pressure. It relies on the consumption of whole grains, vegetables and fruits, but unlike the Mediterranean diet, it is a low-sodium diet.
A research team at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago set out to combine the best of both diets into a single diet. The goal? Prove the diet's ability to prevent Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.
A look back at neurodegenerative diseases
Neurodegenerative diseases are probably one of the worst scourges of today. Indeed, for France alone, there are more than 850,000 people suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and to this are added 150,000 suffering from Parkinson's disease and more than 85,000 patients with multiple sclerosis. These three pathologies share one thing in common: progressive and irreversible damage to neurons (brain cells), a much faster degeneration than an age-related cognitive decline.
Unfortunately, it is difficult if not impossible to definitively relieve these three diseases. Today, we can only try to delay their progression, through medication, intellectual stimulation with specific exercises and the strengthening of social ties. But what scientists at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago seem to be about to confirm is that a targeted diet can also prevent or delay the onset of these neurological disorders.
How does the MIND diet work?
After more than 5 years of study on a large panel of patients, epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris has managed to develop the MIND diet. The results of the study in question were published in March 2015 in the journal Alzheumer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association. The scientist explains that by providing the body with a maximum of protective nutrients and banishing harmful foods, the MIND diet will improve brain function, boost concentration and tone the brain. Much more than a simple diet, the MIND program is a real lifestyle to follow in the long term. There is therefore no need to adopt it only for a few months since it is a preventive program against brain degeneration, regardless of the degree of the disease.
Foods recommended or prohibited by the MIND program
Adopting the fundamentals of the MIND diet is a great initiative that will not only help you protect yourself from Alzheimer's disease, but also achieve and maintain good brain health.
To benefit from the virtues of the MIND diet, it is not necessary to deprive yourself of everything. It is only necessary to reduce the portion of certain foods and increase the amount of other foods beneficial to the brain.
In Martha Clare Morris' book, we find a list of foods that are divided into two groups: those to include in your diet and those to avoid or limit.
The 10 food groups to include in the MIND diet:
- whole grains: 3 or more servings per day;
- green leafy vegetables: 6 servings per week;
- other vegetables: 1 serving per day;
- nuts: 5 servings per week;
- berries: 2 or more servings per week;
- beans and other legumes: 3 or more servings per week;
- fish: 1 serving or more per week;
- poultry: 2 or more servings per week;
- wine: 1 serving per day;
- and olive oil, to be used as a cooking or seasoning body.
The 5 food groups to moderate in the MIND diet:
- pastries and sweets: less than 5 servings per week;
- red meat: less than 4 servings per week;
- cheese: less than one serving per week;
- fast food: less than one serving per week;
- and butter and/or margarine: less than 1 tablespoon per day.
The 2 food groups to avoid:
- alcoholic beverages are to be avoided because of their harmful nature to the brain, by limiting learning and memorization abilities;
- saturated fats found in biscuits and industrial bread products (pies, quiches, buns, breads, etc.).
How does the MIND diet protect against Alzheimer's disease?
Obviously, while eating more vegetables and fewer pastries is already a good health act in itself, it's not clear how the MIND diet reduces the risk of Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Here are some of the most likely explanations for how it inhibits mental decline, as can be read in Martha Clare Morris' book.
The MIND diet is rich in brain-protective vitamins A diet rich in plant foods will be rich in vitamins needed to help prevent cognitive impairment. This is because vitamins C and E are antioxidants that protect the brain from free radical damage and together they have a powerful synergistic effect.
A large study has confirmed that vitamin C combined with vitamin E can prevent memory loss and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia by 60%. Vitamin C acts as a powerful detoxifier that easily crosses the blood-brain barrier to remove metals like aluminum, which has long been believed to contribute to Alzheimer's disease.
For its part, a landmark study from the University of Oxford found that vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid, which are abundant in green leafy vegetables, work together to reduce brain atrophy, improve brain function and significantly reduce brain shrinkage in the region of the brain most affected by Alzheimer's disease. Finally, vitamin K, another vitamin found mainly in green vegetables, is also thought to play a role in preventing Alzheimer's disease.
Omega-3, vitamin B and antioxidants to protect the brain We know that the brain is essentially made up of lipids, but not just any of them: it is very rich in omega-3, a polyunsaturated fatty acid found in fatty fish. However, several studies have shown the beneficial role of omega-3 from childhood. Some scientists even recommend dietary supplements in infants, as a deficiency of essential fatty acids leads to a delay in brain development.
However, this capital must be maintained throughout life, especially through dietary diversity: nuts, vegetable oils, chia seeds, sardines, anchovies, mackerel … All these foods should be on the menu at least once a week.
That said, omega-3 alone is not enough to protect the brain. When combined with vitamins of group B, water-soluble vitamins that are found in quantities in leafy green vegetables. This is why we must bet on salads, spinach, cabbage, but also in meat (to be moderated), dairy products and eggs. Above, we also mentioned fruit-berries, containing antioxidants that will complement the action of B vitamins and omega-3. Blueberries, currants, blackcurrants… Do not hesitate to invite the red fruits in your dairy products for maximum protection.
The advantages and disadvantages of the MIND diet
Among its early benefits, the MIND diet has been proven to improve neural functions and memory and learning abilities. But in addition to these obvious virtues on cognitive function, this program is also known to promote sustainable weight loss by increasing the effect of satiety thanks to the presence of leafy green vegetables.
However, this diet is also not perfect: it involves paying attention to the foods to be consumed, which may increase the budget devoted to food. Indeed, it is essential to favor fresh, organic and steamed products. Exit restaurants and fast food!
The cost of the MIND plan
Knowing that anyone can follow the MIND diet without a subscription, it is the cost of food that may put some of us off. Even if these foods are accessible to all budgets, it is still necessary to favor raw products, berries and fruits whose rates can vary according to the season and the origin. To save money, it is possible to opt for seasonal products that are cheaper than ready-made preparations.
What type of sport should accompany the MIND diet?
Many studies have proven that regular physical activity helps keep your brain healthy. Indeed, when you regularly practice a sport, attention performance and brain functions are improved. Blood cortisol levels, the stress hormone harmful to neurons, drop when you play sports. In short, physical activity is an essential ally of the MIND diet.
It is also not mandatory to make too much effort: it is enough to practice two or three cardio workouts of 30 minutes per week. Sports that promote brain oxygenation include running, walking, hiking, swimming, step and elliptical trainer.
Other more specific sports practices are also interesting, such as the martial art of tai chi, which maintains the cognitive functions of the brain (ability to plan, work on memory, be attentive, solve problems and reason verbally). The same goes for yoga and meditation which are also recommended practices to relax and avoid the oxidation of the brain caused by stress.
In addition, physical exercise is an ally of sleep, an important parameter in the protection of neuronal functions. Quality sleep gives the brain more time to select and classify the information received during the past day.
Does the MIND diet pose a health risk?
The MIND diet was developed to keep the brain healthy, which is the most important organ in our body. It therefore does not present any risks and instead provides all the essential nutrients to the body. For people suffering from diabetes or cardiovascular problems, the MIND program also does not present risks because, on the contrary, it will solve disorders related to blood sugar and cholesterol. However, in case of specific pathology, it is always essential to talk to your doctor before putting into practice the MIND diet.
Does the MIND diet entail risks of deficiencies?
From a nutritional point of view, no risk is associated with the MIND diet because it is a varied diet. This diet is actually rich in vegetables and fruits, two groups of foods that provide fiber, vitamins and nutrients essential to the functioning of the body. There is also a significant amount of protein, potassium and magnesium, all essential for maintaining health.
The verdict on the MIND diet
In summary, the MIND diet was developed by epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris to combine the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. It promotes a diet rich in omega-3 and suppresses processed foods, too fatty and too salty. Even if this diet is sometimes known to promote weight loss, it should be emphasized that its primary purpose is the prevention of Alzheimer's disease.
Regarding the results of her study, Martha Clare Morris argues that following the MIND diet would reduce the risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease by 53%. And even those who do not follow the diet to the letter would see the risk decrease by 35%.
In short, the MIND diet is therefore ideal for taking care of our brain. In this, it is very useful for students who are preparing for an exam since it improves memorization and learning. But note that this diet can also be adopted by the entire population, regardless of age, since everyone can be affected by brain degeneration, often due to the diet filled with pollutants, the massive use of screens …
Regarding the other benefit of the MIND diet, the stimulation of weight loss, we lack too much information for us to confirm this virtue. That said, the diet as part of this diet focuses on vegetables and fruits full of fiber, essential components to reduce the feeling of hunger and promote the feeling of satiety.
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