MIND Diet for Brain Health: Short and Long Term Effects

eIn the same year, US News and World Reports topped the list of the best eating plans. This list has nothing to do with what is “fashionable” or what celebrities do. It’s about what nationally recognized nutritionists and clinicians, including experts in heart health and human behavior, actually recommend.

*You* might* be able to guess what came on top of the just released 2022 list. The Mediterranean diet is no stranger to the top and has once again ranked first, followed by the DASH diet and the flexi diet. But there’s another diet in the top five that doesn’t get as much stress as the ruling trio. The MIND diet (number four on the list) is an eating pattern that researchers developed based on studies showing the protective effects of certain foods specifically linked to brain health. MIND is actually an acronym for Mediterranean Intervention – DASH to Delay Neurodegeneration and the eating plan was developed by nutrition researcher Martha Claire Morris and colleagues at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

The eating plan is divided into 15 categories: 10 types of brain-healthy foods and five types of foods to limit. The foods people are most encouraged to eat include leafy greens, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, berries, poultry, fish, and olive oil. This way, you get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, and antioxidants — all of which have been repeatedly scientifically proven to benefit the brain.

If you switched from a Standard American Diet to the MIND Diet for Brain Health, would you really expect to experience a difference in the short and long term? Registered dietitians who have studied the diet wholeheartedly say yes. here, Mind diet for beginners ($12) Author Kelli McGrane, RD, Mind Diet Plan & Cookbook ($13), author Julie Andrews, RD, both detail how following the MIND diet affects brain health, whether right after you make the switch or if you stick with it forever.

What happens to your brain after you start following the MIND diet

If you’re used to eating a diet primarily made of nutrient-poor foods and then switched to the MIND diet, Andrews says one brain change you can expect right away is better focus and focus. She explained that the reason for this is that the main pillars of an eating plan have been directly linked to improving brain function in these ways.

McGrane agrees. “From my professional experience when I used to give counseling, I regularly heard clients mention that they felt more energetic and didn’t experience brain fog as often after cutting back on ultra-processed foods and incorporating more whole foods into their diets,” she says. The foods you eat are just as important as the foods you’ve reduced, such as sugar, sodium, and simple carbohydrates. These foods are notorious for causing brain fog because they cause spikes and drops in blood sugar, which in turn affects mental clarity.

Besides better mental clarity, Andrews says another cognitive change you may experience relatively soon after starting an eating plan is improved mental health. That’s because, no coincidence, the same foods that are scientifically linked to reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression rank high on this eating plan. (For the record, that specifically includes whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and nuts.) But McGrane says more studies need to be done focusing specifically on the MIND diet to really prove the link. “There is currently very little research on the relationship between the MIND diet and mental health, specifically depression and anxiety,” she says, adding that what exists shows mixed results.

While the effect of how you eat can have a powerful effect on your focus and mood, McGrane says it’s just one piece of the puzzle. “Other lifestyle factors, such as getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and staying hydrated are also key,” she says. But it’s possible that the immediate benefits you’ll experience after starting the MIND diet for brain health will inspire you to stick with it. This comes with its unique benefits as well.

What Happens to Your Brain When You Follow the MIND Diet Long-Term:

If you stick to the MIND diet, both experts say you can expect the initial benefits of improved focus, and for some, better mental health will continue. They also say that you are less likely to develop dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other cognitive diseases. “The research on the MIND diet is promising for long-term effects on brain health,” Andrews says. “In fact, studies from Rush University, home of the MIND diet, show that those who follow the MIND diet can reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 53 percent!” What’s more, Andrews says you don’t have to follow it completely to experience the benefits. “Even following the MIND diet ‘partially,’ meaning you follow some recommendations, can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s very powerful,” she says.

McGrane adds that the eating plan is linked to supporting general brain health in old age, not just memory. “It may also help protect against general cognitive decline. In fact, the Memory and Aging Project found that eating one serving of green leafy vegetables per day — an essential part of the MIND diet — was associated with slower cognitive decline,” he says.

The scientifically backed link between the MIND diet and preventing cognitive decline is very exciting, but it’s also important to note that there are other factors at play, some of which are completely out of our control. Unfortunately, we cannot control everything that happens to us as we age.

Since the MIND diet has both short- and long-term brain benefits, nutritionists say the eating plan targets literally everyone, but Andrews says it’s especially beneficial for seniors. “It’s specifically designed to help people of all ages reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and cognitive decline,” she says. “I recommend it for people who have a diagnosis or a family history of these conditions, specifically, but the recommendations are good for everyone and it’s never too late to start incorporating these into your lifestyle.”

If getting started with trying it seems difficult, McGrane recommends starting with small meals (a few MIND-inspired meals per week) and ideally not getting stuck doing it. Remember, you don’t have to follow it 100% to reap the benefits. There are also helpful, meal-packed cookbooks out there, like every expert’s book listed above.

What sets the MIND diet apart is that it isn’t overly restrictive. (It should be a TBH plan that isn’t meant to be followed long-term.) There’s no shortage of meals to prepare when sticking to the meal plan—no matter what your favorite taste. It will benefit your brain in many ways in this process. Definitely something to consider, well, mind.

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