Keep Your Body Healthy by MINDing What You Eat

Healthy eating doesn’t need to be hard. You don’t have to spend a lot of time tracking your daily calories or buy special diet products. Just find a healthy approach to what you eat. One easy-to-follow eating plan steers you toward delicious, simple, wholesome foods. It can help your brain, heart and gut health.

MINDful Eating

The ideas behind the MIND diet are not new. It’s based on two diets that have been around for decades. And studies have shown that they’re healthy, effective diet plans.

MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. But just think of it as a mix of the DASH diet   (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which focuses on heart health, and the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet   focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats like olive oil, whole grains, and beans and nuts. It also includes moderate amounts of fish, poultry, eggs and dairy.

MIND combines these two eating plans while emphasizing foods that are especially helpful for brain health. Plant-based foods like whole grains, beans and vegetables are the main focus for the MIND diet.   It also limits the animal-based foods that are high in saturated fats and foods with added sugars. While MIND encourages portion control, the emphasis is not on weight loss. But weight loss can be an added bonus for some.

Research shows that the MIND diet can improve brain health and lower your odds of developing issues like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Studies show that eating certain foods and dodging unhealthy ones can slow brain aging    by over seven years.

This approach to eating can also improve the health of your digestive system. Our bodies are loaded with trillions of bacteria that help break down food and play a big role in total health. These bacteria live throughout your body, but the ones in your digestive system may have the biggest impact on your health and well-being. They affect everything from your metabolism to your mood to your immune system. Research suggests that your gut bacteria are tied to your risk for health issues like diabetes, obesity, depression and colon cancer.

The MIND Basics

The MIND plan is not complicated. It’s made up of simple foods that are easy to find. It’s a healthy eating plan for most people. And if you have food allergies, you can adapt the plan.

To follow the MIND plan:

  • Aim for three or more servings of whole grains each day.
  • Have leafy greens plus two other vegetables each day.
  • Pick fruits over pastries. Berries are especially helpful for brain health.
  • Have four or more servings of beans per week.
  • Try for one or more servings of poultry and fish each week.
  • Snack on nuts and berries.
  • Choose olive oil as a healthy source of fat to use in recipes and for cooking.
  • Eat meats and dairy sparingly, less than four times a week. Swap protein-packed beans and legumes for meat.
  • Foods high in saturated fats and added sugars, like butter, margarine, cheese, red meat, fried foods, sweet treats and sugary drinks, should mostly be avoided.
  • You can have 5 ounces of wine each day. Studies show that small amounts of wine can be beneficial. But you can skip it if you aren’t already a wine drinker. Other types of alcohol should be limited or avoided.
The Bottom Line

The paybacks of the MIND diet are many. It may help slow brain aging and lower your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. But it doesn’t just help your brain. It also helps your heart. The high fiber and low saturated fat and sugar can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.  

It also helps improve your digestive health, which boosts your metabolism, mood, immune system and more. Better gut health can also lower your risk for health issues like diabetes, obesity, depression and colon cancer.

Improving what you eat can boost your brain and body. Talk to your doctor before you start a new eating plan to find out what changes are best for you.

Sources: DASH Eating Plan,   National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute, 2021; What Is the Mediterranean Diet?,   American Heart Association, 2020; What is the MIND diet?,   Food Insight, International Food Information Council, 2019; Debating Diets: What is the MIND diet?,   Baylor College of Medicine, 2020; Improve brain health with the MIND diet,   Nutrition and Healthy Eating, Mayo Clinic, 2019; What Your Gut Bacteria Say About You,   WebMD, 2020; High-level adherence to a Mediterranean diet beneficially impacts the gut microbiota and associated metabolome,   Gut, Vol. 65, Issue 11, 2016
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