A Review of the MIND Diet for Weight Loss

Dr. Christopher McGowan
June 26, 2023

MIND Facts | MIND Diet Origin | How does MIND Diet Work? | MIND Diet Benefits | MIND Diet Weight Loss | Experts Say | Bottom Line

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of the top ten leading causes of death in the United States is Alzheimer’s disease. There are already upwards of six million Americans living with Alzheimer’s today, and that number is expected to more than double by 2050. While it is possible for younger people to get Alzheimer’s disease, it primarily affects adults over the age of 65; as the size of the U.S. population over 65 continues to grow, so too will the societal and economic burden of the disease.  

Research into Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases is ongoing, but these conditions are still not well understood by doctors. To date, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, and even the standard treatments are useful for addressing some symptoms rather than reversing or stopping its progression. In light of this, new approaches to treatment have emerged that focus on lifestyle factors like diet. One promising avenue is the MIND diet, a diet plan and eating pattern that was specifically designed to protect against dementia and cognitive decline. 

Facts About Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases 

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that primarily affects the brain in a way that results in cognitive decline and memory impairment. It is the most common cause of dementia, a syndrome characterized by a significant loss of cognitive function and which affects a person's memory, thinking, behavior, and ability to perform typical daily activities. The symptoms gradually worsen over time, causing significant distress especially for the afflicted person’s family and friends. Like other neurodegenerative diseases, the nature and cause of Alzheimer’s are still poorly understood.  

The disease was first described in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German psychiatrist and neuropathologist. Several years earlier, in 1901, Alzheimer began seeing a patient named Auguste Deter in a Frankfurt asylum. Over the next five years, he observed as she experienced severe cognitive decline and memory loss. When she eventually died in 1906, he was able to analyze her brain tissue and found abnormal protein deposits and fibrous “tangles” that are now considered the primary markers of the disease that bears his name. 

As Alzheimer's disease advances, patients may experience difficulties with short-term memory, language problems, disorientation, mood swings, and changes in behavior. Simple tasks that were once routine may become challenging, and individuals may require increasing levels of assistance with daily activities. Additionally, even beyond the personal and familial challenges associated with these changes, the disease can also be a burden on society at large. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it is estimated that treatment for Alzheimer’s and dementia costs the country $345 billion each year; moreover, over millions of people provide unpaid care for family members afflicted with the disease. 

Despite decades of research, the cause of Alzheimer's disease is still not known. What is clear, however, is that advancing age is the most significant risk factor, and this risk increases once a person reaches the age of 65. Genetic factors, lifestyle choices, and certain medical conditions may also play a role in its development, but more research is needed. Current efforts to understand and treat the disease are focused on early diagnosis, slowing the progression, and managing the symptoms.  

Origin of the MIND Diet

MIND Diet origins

As more is learned about Alzheimer’s and similar neurodegenerative diseases, researchers have been trying to identify new treatments that might make a difference. In 2015, a research team at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago published a paper that described a new kind of diet that was specifically designed to prevent neurodegeneration and age-related cognitive decline. The team, led by nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, utilized components from two other well-known diets—as well as extensive research on foods that have been shown to improve cognitive function—to develop the MIND diet. 

The very name of the MIND diet is a nod to its origin: Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. The reason the Rush University team borrowed from the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet plans is because they are both well-regarded in the medical community for being demonstrably effective for their aims. Below is a summary of each of these diets: 

Mediterranean Diet

  • Inspired by the traditional eating habits of people in Mediterranean countries like Italy and Greece 
  • Emphasis on plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds
  • Utilizes olive oil as the primary source of fat because it is rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants
  • Includes dairy products like yogurt and cheese but in moderate amounts
  • Encourages moderate consumption of fish and poultry, with limited intake of red meat
  • Promotes regular physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle 

DASH Diet:  

  • Developed specifically to reduce blood pressure levels in patients who are afflicted with hypertension 
  • Emphasizes nutrient-rich foods that are known to support heart health
  • Encourages the intake of a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains, poultry, fish, beans, and nuts
  • Calls for drastically reducing sodium intake 
  • Also promotes physical activity and moderation in food intake 

Extensive research over recent years has shown that each of these diets is effective in its own way; the Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce the risk of early death and chronic disease, and the DASH diet does indeed reduce hypertension and the risks of associated conditions. Moreover, the data indicates that each can also be a helpful framework for losing weight. Numerous medical organizations like the American Heart Association have examined these diets and found that they both also provide a variety of health benefits even beyond their stated purposes.   

So when the researchers at Rush University started devising an eating plan that could be beneficial for brain health, they started with these two diets. They found that even though the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet were not designed with brain health in mind, they had nevertheless demonstrated some neuroprotective properties. The team was able to identify the specific foods and food categories that are now known to bolster brain function or slow the kinds of decline in cognition that are common in Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. 

How Does the MIND Diet Work? 

Even though the MIND diet is a “diet,” it is much more focused on emphasizing nutrient-rich foods than calorie restriction. The foods included in the diet were selected specifically because they are believed to support cognitive function and protect against neurodegeneration. It is also consistent, however, with other diets and meal plans that highlight healthy eating in general as well as moderation and regular physical activity. Below is the basic structure of how the MIND diet works and the number of recommended servings for each food group: 

  • 3+ servings per day of whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats, whole wheat bread)
  • 6+ servings per week of green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens) 
  • 1+ servings per day of other vegetables  
  • 2+ servings per week of berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries) 
  • 5+ servings per week of nuts and seeds (walnuts, almonds, pistachios) 
  • 4+ servings per week of legumes (beans, lentils)
  • 2+ servings per week of poultry (chicken, turkey) 
  • 1+ servings per week of fish (salmon, sardines, tuna)
  • limited use of olive oil when a fat is called for  

In addition to the foods above that are the main focus, the MIND diet also identifies a number of unhealthy foods that should be eaten only in moderation. In general, these foods are higher in saturated or trans fat: 

  • 5 or fewer servings per week of pastries and sweets
  • 4 or fewer servings per week of red meat (beef, lamb, pork) 
  • 1 or fewer servings per week of cheese or fried food 
  • 1 tablespoon or less per day of butter or margarine 
  • overall, high-fat and high-sodium fast foods should be avoided 

The MIND diet allows for a certain amount of flexibility and adaptation so that different people can account for their personal preferences and dietary needs. As long as you’re incorporating brain-healthy foods and reducing intake of foods that should be limited, there are any number of ways to adapt the diet in a way that suits you. Like the Mediterranean diet and DASH, the MIND diet isn’t particularly considered with ensuring a calorie deficit. Ultimately the main purpose of the diet is to boost brain function and slow the rate of cognitive decline.   

What Are the Potential Health Benefits of the MIND Diet?

MIND Diet benefits

Both of the diets the MIND diet is based on have been researched thoroughly over time, and there is strong evidence that adherence to them can lead to a lower risk of conditions like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. This is also part of the reason the Mediterranean and DASH diets were models since these medical conditions are all considered risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. But in addition to reducing the risk for Alzheimer’s, the MIND diet also provide a variety of other potential health benefits: 

  • Heart health: The focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean proteins that is at the core of the MIND diet makes it an excellent choice for boosting heart health and lessening the risk of heart disease and related conditions. One of the main reasons for this is the high dietary fiber content of the recommended foods and the way that fiber can increase HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind) and lower LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind). 
  • Antioxidants: A common theme among the foods of the MIND diet is that they are rich in antioxidant compounds like flavonoids and polyphenols. Antioxidants are so named because they can protect against oxidative stress, a result of having a high concentration of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are naturally occurring particles that are believed to damage cells all over the body, and antioxidants are therefore considered an important asset in preventing disease, including some types of cancer.   
  • Anti-inflammatory properties: Another potential benefit of the MIND diet is related to inflammation; inflammation is a natural function of the immune system, but in some cases abnormal inflammation can contribute to a number of different health conditions. Many of the foods that are rich in antioxidants are also beneficial for reducing inflammation in the body.  
  • Improved nutrient intake: One of the most basic benefits of the MIND diet is that it promotes the consumption of a wide range of nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, B vitamins (folate, niacin, riboflavin, etc.), and omega-3 fatty acids. The body needs regular sources of these nutrients, but the average American diet is often lacking in several of them.      

Can the MIND Diet Lead to Weight Loss? 

As noted above, the MIND diet was specifically developed as a means of reducing the rate of cognitive decline that can lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia; however, there is some evidence that the diet can also promote weight loss. For instance, a recent study associated with the National Institute on Aging looked at 604 adults over the age of 65 who were considered overweight (BMI greater than 25). One group followed the MIND diet and the control group followed their usual diet. Though the focus of the study was cognitive performance and both groups lost some weight, the researchers found that the group on the MIND diet had improvements in overall diet quality.   

Like the DASH and Mediterranean diets, the MIND diet can potentially work for weight loss primarily because of the general emphasis on nutrient-dense, whole foods. The average American diet tends to involve a lot of processed foods that are high in the saturated fats and simple sugars that are known to contribute to weight gain. By switching to the MIND diet, there are several factors that make weight loss more likely:  

  • Whole foods: Nutrient-rich whole foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts, lean meats, and whole grains tend to be lower in calories, higher in fiber, and higher in protein. Such foods generally promote feelings of fullness and satiety that can lead to reduced overall calorie intake.   
  • Limited high-calorie foods: One of the key principles of the MIND diet is to limit sugary and high-fat foods that tend to have the most calories and the least nutrients. Besides being more likely to be converted to fat by the body’s metabolism, these foods also tend to increase cravings and make it more difficult to maintain a calorie deficit. 
  • Balance: Diets are often unsustainable in part because it is difficult to restrict oneself to a small set of foods. But the MIND diet calls for a balanced diet that comes from various food groups. This can help people avoid extreme restrictions that can backfire and lead to overeating.   

Because of the MIND diet’s central focus on preventing or slowing down cognitive decline, there hasn’t been much research to date on its potential for weight loss. Indeed, weight loss is a complex process that is influenced by various factors, including individual metabolism, physical activity levels, and overall lifestyle habits. The MIND diet has a number of characteristics that can be beneficial for weight loss, but the amount of weight you can lose will vary greatly from person to person. 

What Do the Experts Say? 

Kathleen Walton, MS, RD, LDN and Lori Gooch, RDN, LDN, registered dietitians at True You Weight Loss, offers some insight into commonly asked questions about the DASH diet:

What are the pros of the MIND diet?

  • Emphasizes foods that are rich in nutrients and antioxidants known to support brain health including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil. It may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease.
  • The MIND diet promotes heart-healthy benefits since it encourages consumption of foods that are low in saturated fats, high in heart-healthy fats, fiber, and nutrients.
  • Encourages a flexible, adaptable, balanced, and varied intake of foods that promote overall health and well-being. It aims to incorporate fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, but can be adapted to different dietary preferences and restrictions. 

What are the cons of the MIND diet?

  • While some studies suggest that the MIND diet may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and cognitive decline, there is currently limited evidence.
  • Since the MIND diet recommends limiting certain foods including red meat, butter and margarine, cheese, pastries, and sweets, it may be restrictive for some.

What have you found people are generally unaware of when considering the MIND diet?

  • There is currently limited research, and more studies are needed to determine the long-term effects of following the MIND diet on brain health. 
  • This style of eating may not have the same impact on everyone and other factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and overall health can influence benefits from the diet.
  • While the MIND diet provides general guidelines, the overall quality of nutritional intake is equally important. Following this eating pattern doesn’t guarantee optimal brain health if dietary quality is lacking. It's important to incorporate a well-rounded, nutrient-dense diet that includes a variety of whole foods.
  • Like all diets, the MIND diet is not a quick fix. It may require long-term commitment and consistency to potentially yield benefits.

Do you have firsthand experience with the MIND diet, whether it's something that you've personally tried, or have seen others be successful or unsuccessful with?

  • While I haven’t tried the MIND diet personally, combining dietary patterns from the Mediterranean and DASH are successful at improving blood pressure and reducing risk of heart disease. Combining these creates an option that utilizes foods shown to support a healthy brain. 

How much weight do people typically lose with the MIND diet?

  • The MIND diet does not place specific emphasis on weight loss or calorie counting but instead focuses on foods that show benefits for heart and brain health. When replacing highly processed and high sugar foods with “healthier” alternatives people are seeing around an average of 10-15 lb weight loss. 

For someone that might be considering the MIND diet, what alternative options should they consider and why?

  • The MIND diet places an emphasis on brain and heart health. A general balanced diet consisting of quality protein, fruits and vegetables, high fiber whole grains, and fats with a focus on decreasing processed foods and sugar can have similar benefits as the MIND diet. 
  • In addition, the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet are both additional styles of eating that place emphasis on heart and brain health. 

The Bottom Line

The MIND diet is a relatively new dietary approach to curbing the growing trend of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. So far, the results are promising, and the diet looks like it can make a substantive difference in delaying cognitive decline. The good news is that virtually anybody else could also benefit from following the MIND diet. The focus on nutrient-dense, whole foods and regular physical activity make it an overall healthy diet that can also even lead to weight loss. The bottom line: just like the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet it’s based on, the MIND diet is a solid and reliable approach to dietary health that anyone could consider. 

True You Weight Loss Can Help

If you’re looking to lose weight, the MIND diet is one option that has a scientifically robust basis. The truth is, though, that it’s difficult to lose weight no matter which diet you pick. In fact, decades of research continues to show that most people aren’t successful with losing weight and keeping it off over the long term. It is all-too-common for people to quickly get frustrated by the effort or perhaps lose a little weight and then regain it after a few months. 

At True You Weight Loss, we want to offer a new way to think about weight loss that can make a long-term difference in your life. We specialize in endobariatric procedures like ESG that are designed to promote permanent lifestyle changes that can lead to sustainable weight loss. If you’re like many other Americans and have repeatedly tried and failed to lose weight in the traditional way, it may be time to consider a new path. To learn more about True You and how we can help, please contact us today to request a consultation.

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan

Dr. Christopher McGowan, MD, a leader in endobariatrics, specializes in non-surgical obesity treatments and is triple-board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Obesity Medicine. Renowned for pioneering endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) with over 2,000 procedures, his global influence and research contributions define him as a top expert.

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