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What is the MIND diet and how does it work?

Dietitians explain the science behind this colorful diet.

We choose diet plans based on a combination of factors — the nutritional benefits, our preferences and our goals. But a lot of us mostly think about the physical benefits of nutrition. Even though we know that our brains are part of our bodies, most folks just don’t consider brain health when they make nutritional choices. But in reality, what could be more important than the health of the organ that controls all our other organs? The MIND diet is a nutritional plan designed to feed your brain — and new studies show that it works. 

What is the MIND diet?

The MIND diet was created by combining the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, a meal plan used to help reduce blood pressure. The goal was to provide clear guidance on what to eat — and what to skip — to slow age-related brain dysfunction. Researchers coined it the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet, a.k.a. the MIND diet.

Grilled  fish with the addition of spices, herbs and lemon on the grill plate.
The MIND diet is full of foods that feed your brain — like fish.Getty Images/iStockphoto

How does the MIND diet work?

It’s estimated that 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease — that’s one out of 10 Americans over the age of 65. Researchers from Rush University in Chicago developed a diet plan to try to beat this somber statistic. Research shows that both rigorous — and even moderate — adherence to the MIND diet may help reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 50%. Studies also show that the MIND diet may reduce the symptoms of Parkinson Disease. 

So, how does it work?

In short, the MIND diet works by maximizing the number of foods you eat that are healthy for the brain and limiting the amount of food that are not. The MIND diet is based on 15 foods — 10 that benefit the brain and five that may hurt it.

With its focus on eating a variety of plant-based foods like leafy greens, vegetables and fruit, along with limiting sugar and saturated fat, many experts agree that the MIND diet is a healthy eating plan with a number of benefits.

Michele Rudolphi, a registered dietitian in Fort Wayne, Ind., recommends the diet to her clients. “Not only is this diet whole-foods based, it is high in plant foods (specifically vegetables) which are typically lacking in the typical American diet. With my clients, I also find that not only does it help to stabilize their blood sugar throughout the day, preventing cravings, it also helps them enjoy the flavors found in whole foods again,” Rudolphi told TODAY.

Dr. Susan Fox, a vascular surgeon in Hollywood, Florida explained that the diet “is high in vitamins and minerals naturally occurring in beans, legumes and vegetables which promote a brain-healthy diet without the peaks and valleys of insulin and sugar disruption.”

The MIND diet may reduce the signs of Alzheimer’s

According to new research, the MIND diet may play a major role in brain health. The study analyzed the postmortem autopsy results of 581 people. What researchers found was that seniors who had followed one of two diet plans — the Mediterranean diet and the MIND diet — showed less brain “plaques” than those who did not.

These brain “plaques” are toxic buildups of abnormal proteins that are thought to play a major role in Alzheimer’s disease. Drugs that slow the progression of these buildups are notoriously expensive. The findings of the study don’t prove unequivocally that making simple dietary changes — like adopting the MIND diet — can by itself prevent Alzheimer’s, but they do support past research that suggests that healthy diets can make an important impact on brain health.

Wild and dark berries.
Berries are a core element of the MIND diet.Getty Images

The 10 foods to eat on the MIND diet

  1. Leafy green vegetables
  2. Vegetables
  3. Nuts
  4. Berries
  5. Olive oil
  6. Whole grains
  7. Beans
  8. Fish
  9. Poultry
  10. Wine

The 5 foods to avoid on the MIND diet

  1. Sugary foods (sweets and pastries)
  2. Saturated and trans fats (like butter and margarine)
  3. Red meat
  4. Fried food
  5. Cheese

The dos and don’ts of the MIND diet

The MIND diet is more of an eating strategy than a regimen. That being said, the are some recommended guidelines.


  • Eat vegetables every day.
  • Eat whole grains every day. 
  • Eat nuts most days. 
  • Eat a half-cup of beans every other day. 
  • Eat at least 7 cup-sized servings of leafy greens a week.
  • Eat 5 half-cup servings of berries per week.
  • Eat poultry 2 times a week. 
  • Eat fish 1 time per week.
  • Drinking wine is optional
Man pouring red wine into glass
One glass of wine a day is optional on the MIND diet.Getty Images/Westend61


  • Use butter or margarine. Replace them with olive oil. 
  • Eat red meat more than 4 times a week. 
  • Eat more than 5 servings of pastries or sweets per week. 
  • Eat more than 2 ounces of of full fat cheese a week. 

Should you try the MIND diet?

If your lifestyle goals include better brain health, along with maintaining healthy blood sugar and blood pressure levels, the MIND diet is a good option to try.

Whether you go all in, or take a slow and steady approach, the MIND diet may be a great first step towards adopting healthier eating habits.

Start by adding in more color in your diet, especially green, blue, red and purple fruits and vegetables. 

Swap refined grain foods with more whole grains like quinoa, brown rice and 100% whole-grain bread. Limit your consumption of red and red processed meat to no more than once a week and cut down on sweets by eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages.

JJ Johnson's Grilled Chicken Thighs with Adobo Sauce + Collard Green Salad with Coconut Dressing
JJ Johnson's Grilled Chicken Thighs with Adobo Sauce + Collard Green Salad with Coconut DressingNathan Congleton / TODAY

MIND diet recipes