Exploring The MIND Diet

The MIND Diet has the potential to cut the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in half and keep the brain more than seven years younger.
Diets come and go, but the MIND Diet has the potential to cut the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in half and keep the brain more than seven years younger. The author of The MIND Diet, nutrition expert Maggie Moon, M.S., RDN, claims this approach to nutrition “is heart-healthy and a solid foundation for healthy eating for just about anyone.” So what exactly does the MIND Diet entail?
The Origin of MIND

The MIND Diet is a cross between the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet. “MIND” stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. The diet was developed by researchers at Rush University who created a nutrition plan shown to help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by more than one-third. In this prospective study, 923 people between the ages of 58 and 98 were followed for four-and-a-half years while following the Mediterranean Diet, the DASH Diet and the MIND Diet. Those who adhered to the MIND Diet the most reduced their risk for Alzheimer’s by 53 percent compared with those who did not adhere closely to the diet. Even those who partially adhered to the MIND Diet were still able to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by 35 percent compared with those who did not follow the diet.

The Diet

The original diet was developed by Martha Clare Morris, Ph.D., a nutritional epidemiologist at Rush University in Chicago, and her colleagues, who identified 10 “brain-healthy food groups” that were brimming with antioxidants, resveratrol and healthy fatty acids. These foods included berries, green leafy vegetables, olive oil, nuts, whole grains, fish and beans. According to the researchers, strawberries and blueberries were shown to be the most-potent berries in terms of protecting against Alzheimer’s and preserving cognitive function.

The MIND Diet is a well-laid-out meal plan with recipes that promote these “brain-healthy foods.” The goal is to earn a top score of 15 by eating at least three servings of whole grains, one serving of vegetables and one glass of wine each day. According to Moon, “The MIND Diet includes a glass of wine a day — no more, no less. Wine is a polyphenol-rich food that was linked to better cognitive function in 447 older men and women who were part of the PREDIMED trial.” You’re also eating leafy greens nearly every day, nuts most days of the week, beans about every other day, berries and poultry twice a week and fish once a week, and using olive oil as your main cooking fat.

There is also a list of foods to limit, as they aren’t great for brain health. These include butter, margarine, pastries, whole-fat cheese, red meat and fast food. Eating certain foods and avoiding others earns you one point each, adding up to a total possible score of 15. If you don’t hit 15 points, don’t worry! Moon claims, “Scoring 8 out of 15 still had significant benefits, and reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 35 percent. So even moderately following the guidelines can help.”

Chicken Curry Salad with Ginger, Almonds & Grapes
MIND foods: Poultry, vegetables, nuts, leafy greens

Serves: 8
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup almond slivers, toasted
1/2 cup mayonnaise (recipe below)
1 1/2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breast
5 teaspoons mild curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, plus more to taste
One 6-ounce cup plain strained yogurt (like Greek or Icelandic)
1 teaspoon honey
1 1/2 inches fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
1 medium red onion, chopped (1 cup)
1 yellow bell pepper, cored and small diced
1 1/2 cup seedless grapes, halved or quartered
2 heads butter lettuce, leaves separated
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Wash, dry and prep all fresh produce. Spread almond slivers in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 5 to 8 minutes (check after 5 minutes), until lightly browned.

2. On medium heat, combine chicken broth and 3 cups of water in a medium pot. On low heat, add curry and ginger powder to a small saute pan, stirring occasionally, until toasted and fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside. Meanwhile, pat chicken breasts dry with paper towels. When liquid is simmering, add chicken (it should be covered by the liquid), adjusting heat to maintain a simmer if needed. Cook, uncovered, for 7 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from the pot and let rest on a cutting board for at least 10 minutes.

3. While chicken is cooking, make the mayonnaise (see directions below), if making, and set aside in refrigerator.

4. In a large bowl, combine mayonnaise, yogurt, lime juice, honey, curry and ginger powder mix, and fresh ginger. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. Add in onion, bell peppers, grapes and almonds, gently stirring to coat (I used a soft spatula for this part).

5. When chicken is cool enough to handle, dice into bite-size pieces (about 1/2-inch squares). Gently fold chicken into main salad mixture, using a soft spatula or gloved hands.

6. Taste it. If it needs adjusting, seasoning to taste with salt, pepper and lime juice. For my tastes, I ended up adding another tablespoon of lime juice just at the end.

Make Your Own Mayonnaise
1 pasteurized egg yolk (I like Davidson’s Safe Eggs)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolk, lemon juice and mustard together until smooth and homogenous. Season with salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, constantly whisking to keep mixture smooth. See, super easy, and tastes so much better than store bought.

Recipe and photos courtesy of Maggie Moon and The MIND Diet

Per serving: Calories 280; Fat 20 g (Saturated 3 g); Carbohydrate 14 g; Fiber 3 g; Protein 14 g

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of  The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day .

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