For the sixth consecutive year, a diet created by researchers at Rush University Medical Center is ranked among the top 10 diets in multiple categories by U.S. News & World Report. The MIND diet tied for third place as easiest diet to follow and ranked fourth for best diet overall and best diet for healthy eating on U.S. News' its annual “Best Diets” list.
The MIND diet was ranked in the following seven categories:
- Easiest Diets to Follow: No. 3 (tie)
- Best Diets for Healthy Eating: No. 4
- Best Diets Overall: No. 4
- Best Heart-Healthy Diets: No. 7 (tie)
- Best Diets for Diabetes: No. 5 (tie)
- Best Weight-Loss Diets: No. 28 (tie)
- Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets: No. 34 (tie)
Now in its 12th year, the annual “Best Diets” list provides facts about eating plans and ranks them on a range of levels, from their heart healthiness to their likelihood of helping with weight loss.
To create the annual rankings, U.S. News editors and reporters explore potential additions to the list of diets and then seek information in medical journals, government reports and other resources to create in-depth diet profiles. Each profile explains how the diet works and whether its claims are substantiated, scrutinizes it for possible health risks, and assesses what it’s like to live on the diet.
The late Martha Clare Morris, ScD, a nutritional epidemiologist, and her colleagues at Rush and Harvard developed the MIND diet based on research showing a correlation linking certain foods and nutrients to effects on brain function. The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. Both have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, heart attack and stroke.
In 2017, researchers at Rush and Harvard School of Public Health began a three-year trial to compare the MIND diet to a usual diet to see what effects each have on the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The two research sites enrolled a total of 604 people who were overweight and had suboptimal diets, and a history of Alzheimer’s dementia in the family, all factors linked to Alzheimer’s dementia risk in observational studies.
“The MIND Trial, one of the largest and longest diet intervention studies to be funded by NIH, is designed to provide evidence of the effectiveness of the MIND diet to slow cognitive decline,” said Lisa L. Barnes, PhD, a neuropsychologist in the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center who took over leading the study after Morris’ passing.
Best diet for healthy eating
The MIND diet emphasizes healthy food groups while limiting unhealthy foods. The healthy food group includes two or more daily servings of vegetables, of which one serving is a leafy green vegetable; three servings per day of whole grains; a serving of beans three times weekly; one ounce of nuts/nut butters and a half cup of berries five days per week; two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil a day; poultry twice weekly, and at least one fish meal weekly.
The unhealthy food recommendations include no more than one teaspoon a day of butter, eating less than four servings a week of sweets and pastries, less than four servings a week of red meat, no more than two ounces of whole-fat cheese weekly, and no more than one meal of fried foods per week.
One advantage of the MIND diet is that benefits have been shown for people following the diet in moderation — meaning one does not have to achieve the target goal for each food to gain brain health benefits. For example, a person who is having difficulty limiting intake of red meat to less than four servings per week could still be considered a healthy eater, provided they were reaching the goal of at least one serving of leafy green vegetables each day.
Easiest diet to follow
“The MIND diet is a is about changing an eating pattern over the long-term, not following a fad diet,” said Jennifer Ventrelle, MS, RDN, lead dietitian for the MIND Diet Intervention to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease at Rush. Common foods that are easy to obtain can fit the diet’s specifications, such as a spinach salad with walnuts, dried cranberries and a balsamic-olive oil dressing topped with a grilled chicken breast and whole grain roll as a side. A few whole grain crackers topped with canned albacore tuna can fulfill the weekly seafood requirement.
“Because the MIND diet calls for daily servings of vegetables, a good strategy is to begin each main meal with a plate of salad or other veggies first,” Ventrelle added. “Even during celebrations or special occasions, a person can fill up on the healthier options before eating other foods. This can be helpful with controlling portions of more indulgent foods, since it takes 20 minutes for the brain to receive the hormonal message that the stomach is full.”
In addition, the MIND diet’s focus on berries as the best fruit and consumption of just one serving of fish/seafood per week is unique compared to the Mediterranean and DASH diets, which specify three to four daily servings of fruit, and the Mediterranean diet’s two or more weekly servings of fish.
Best diet overall
Not only does the MIND diet seem to provide long-term protection against cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, it also promotes overall health, including cardiovascular benefits.
We have long known that what is good for the heart is also good for the brain. The fact that adherence to the MIND diet may promote protection against cardiovascular disease is consistent with other studies that have shown positive vascular effects based on diet, and could be another possible reason that the MIND diet protects brain health.