When it comes to heart health, the DASH and Mediterranean diets are synonymous with being good for your ticker. Both of these diets focus on consuming copious amounts of whole foods – fruits, vegetables, and whole grains chief among them – while reducing intake of foods that are high in sodium and saturated and trans fats. While it’s well-known that they can help improve cardiovascular function, new research has shown that combining certain components of the DASH and Mediterranean diets can improve brain function, too. The MIND diet (short for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay), developed by an epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Center, has been shown to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by between 35 and 53 percent.
The MIND diet is centered on ten “brain-healthy” food groups that appear in DASH and/or the Mediterranean diet: leafy green vegetables, other vegetables, berries, nuts, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine. The diet involves eating at least three servings of whole grains, a salad made with leafy greens, and one other vegetable each day. A daily glass of wine is encouraged, although not required. Snacking is also encouraged, with nuts being the snack of choice. Other recommendations include consuming beans every other day, poultry and berries at least two times a week, and fish at least once a week.
The MIND diet also includes five “unhealthy” food groups: red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried and fast food. Like all good diets, the MIND diet does not advocate cutting these foods out completely; instead, it designates them as “sometimes” foods that should be consumed in small amounts (less than one tablespoon of butter a day; less than a serving each of cheese, fried food, and fast food a week; fewer than four servings a week of red meat; and fewer than five servings a week of pastries or sweets).
The MIND diet is fairly easy to follow, as it offers suggestions more than hard-and-fast rules. If you’d like to follow the MIND diet, all you need to do is follow the guidelines above for consuming a variety of foods from the ten brain-healthy food groups and a limited amount of foods from the unhealthy food groups. Eating a balanced diet that includes treats in moderation is an easy way to improve your eating habits, and quite possibly, your brain and heart health, too.