MIND Diet is Associated with Better Cognitive Function, Study Shows

Foods from the MIND Diet

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Key Takeaways

  • The MIND Diet is a combination of elements from the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet that are specifically good for brain health.
  • Past studies have shown that the MIND Diet can help combat dementia and Alzheimer's Disease.
  • A new study shows that the MIND Diet is also good for cognition, even in the absence of dementia.

Physical activity and education level may each play a role in protecting cognitive function. In a new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, researchers looked at whether diet also helps with cognition independent of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Researchers focused specifically on the MIND Diet since past research has shown it can reduce the rate of developing Alzheimer’s disease by more than 50%. The researchers made some interesting discoveries.

"We found that higher adherence to the MIND diet was associated with a better cognitive function proximate to death, and this association was independent of common brain pathology," says Klodian Dhana, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the department of internal medicine at the Rush Institute of Healthy Aging at Rush University Medical Center, and one of the authors of the study.

About the Study

The researchers used data from the Rush Memory and Aging Project (MAP), a longitudinal study. They studied autopsy data for 569 deceased people, which encompassed diet, cognitive testing, and dementia-related brain pathologies.

Klodian Dhana, MD, PhD

We have shown that the MIND diet is associated with a slower cognitive decline and lower risk of dementia.

— Klodian Dhana, MD, PhD

The researchers found an association between people who adhered to the MIND diet with better cognitive function and slower cognitive decline. This discovery was independent of whether there were any signs of Alzheimer's or other brain diseases upon autopsy.

This suggests the MIND diet may protect against some of the cognitive loss associated with brain diseases. It also may help build cognitive resilience in older adults.

"We have shown that the MIND diet is associated with a slower cognitive decline and lower risk of dementia," says Dr. Dhana.

The researchers say that without effective pharmacological interventions to prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer's, this discovery is significant. Being able to modify lifestyle factors that lower the risk of faster cognitive decline is encouraging, they say.

What is the MIND Diet?

MIND is an acronym for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. The positive benefits seen from the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet led researchers to create a hybrid diet specifically to help improve brain function and prevent dementia.

Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND

The MIND Diet encourages vegetables, berries, olive oil, nuts, whole grain, fish, beans, and poultry.

— Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND

"The MIND Diet encourages vegetables, berries, olive oil, nuts, whole grain, fish, beans, and poultry," says Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND, owner of The Geriatric Dietitian in Medford, Oregon.

Dodd adds that following the MIND Diet also means that people should eat less butter, margarine, red meat, fried food, sweets, and cheese. 

"I am not surprised that this recent study has found the MIND diet is helpful for cognition, even in older adults who do not have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease," says Dodd. "The MIND diet follows a healthy eating pattern high in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein sources."

Why does the MIND diet help brain health?

Adults who follow the MIND diet have a slower overall rate of cognitive decline, which researchers say is equivalent to 7.5 years of younger age. This is due to the nutritious combination of foods promoted on the diet, which help reduce inflammation and preserve white matter in the brain. These aspects are linked to stronger cognitive benefits.

The MIND diet is rich in nutrients such as folate, vitamin E, lutein-zeaxanthin, and flavonoids. These nutrients are known for their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and pro-cognition properties.

For example, green leafy vegetables and nuts contain vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects neurons from damage related to oxidative stress caused by free radicals. And berries help reverse neuronal aging by reducing oxidative stress. All of the foods on the MIND diet work synergistically to protect brain health.

"The MIND diet is developed based on the Mediterranean and DASH diets but with modifications that emphasize foods for brain health, such as green leafy vegetables and berries. These foods are sources of vitamin E, carotenoids, and flavonoids, which are nutrients related to the risk of dementia," says Dr. Dhana.

What This Means For You

The MIND diet consists of leafy greens, berries, fish, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, and beans. These foods help fight inflammation and provide your brain with the right nutrients to combat dementia and cognitive decline, according to research. If you want to learn more about the MIND diet—including if it is right for you—reach out to a registered dietitian.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Aiello Bowles EJ, Crane PK, Walker RL, et al. Cognitive resilience to Alzheimer's disease pathology in the human brain. JAD. 2019;68(3):1071-1083. doi:10.3233/JAD-180942

  2. Buchman AS, Yu L, Wilson RS, et al. Physical activity, common brain pathologies, and cognition in community-dwelling older adultsNeurology. 2019;92(8):e811-e822. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000006954

  3. Dhana K, James BD, Agarwal P, et al. Mind diet, common brain pathologies, and cognition in community-dwelling older adults. Gardener H, edJAD. 2021;83(2):683-692. doi:10.3233/JAD-210107

  4. Rush. New MIND diet may significantly protect against Alzheimer's disease.

  5. Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s diseaseAlzheimer’s & Dementia. 2015;11(9):1007-1014. doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2014.11.009

  6. Morris MC. Nutrition and risk of dementia: overview and methodological issues. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2016 Mar;1367(1):31-7. doi:10.1111/nyas.13047

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD
 Cara Rosenbloom RD is a dietitian, journalist, book author, and the founder of Words to Eat By, a nutrition communications company in Toronto, ON.