What Is the MIND Diet? A Mediterranean Diet Offshoot Aimed at Giving You a Sharper Brain


Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are rich in antioxidants, chemical compounds known to quell the inflammation and oxidative stress that can lead to neurodegenerative disease. Dr. Ramsey adds that many seeds—including pumpkin, hemp, and sesame—are also high in zinc. “Zinc is involved in 300 biochemical reactions in the brain, and lower levels of zinc are correlated with higher levels of depression,” he says.

Beans and legumes: A diet staple of people who live in Blue Zones, or regions of the world with the longest average lifespans, beans and legumes improve metabolic health and reduce cholesterol, says Dr. Fenn.

Berries: “Berries are recognized as the only fruit that’s proven to be neuroprotective,” says Dr. Fenn. Scientists believe this is because they’re high in antioxidants.

Poultry: The MIND diet recommends a limited amount of animal-based protein: approximately two meals a week. Poultry (as well as beans, legumes, and many seafood) is also high in vitamins B9 (folate) and B12. “It’s known that deficiencies in these B vitamins cause depression, dementia, and anxiety,” says Dr. Ramsey.

Fish and seafood: According to Dr. Ramsey, fish and other forms of seafood are rich in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. He recommends wild salmon, rainbow trout, mussels, sardines, and anchovies as great sources of this brain-healthy nutrient.

Olive oil: This Mediterranean diet fave is a great source of vitamin E, which Dr. Ramsey says is brain-protective, and polyphenols, a type of antioxidant. “Researchers started to give really young, really nutrient-dense olive oil to people who already have early dementia, and they have found that it actually improves symptoms, and it might be that polyphenol content,” says Dr. Fenn.

Foods to Avoid for Better Brain Health

Let’s get this out of the way: You’re not going to be happy with this list. According to the MIND diet, you should limit your intake of pastries and sweets, red meat, cheese, fried foods, and butter.

“So this entire discussion of brain-healthy eating is about including the foods that we know are neuroprotective—like the leafy greens, the vegetables, and the berries—but also excluding the foods that we know drive up our cholesterol, specifically our LDL cholesterol,” says Dr. Fenn. All five food groups that the MIND diet recommends limiting are high in saturated fat, which is known to increase LDL cholesterol.

“These foods are also bad for metabolic health, and that’s a huge factor in Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Fenn. People with diabetes, for instance, have at least double the risk of Alzheimer’s later in life, she says. “So when you’re cutting out sugary drinks, processed food, nutrient-poor foods that tend to feed into obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, all these metabolic problems, then you are also reducing Alzheimer’s risk at the end of the day.”

Research also increasingly supports cutting back on or completely eliminating your alcohol intake. The version of the MIND diet, which was first published in 2015, included red wine as the tenth most brain-healthy food, but newer research has caused medical professionals to reverse the course here. “There’s an accumulation of data showing that there’s probably no minimum dose of alcohol that is beneficial to brain health long-term,” says Dr. Fenn.



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