Newswise — For the fourth consecutive year, a diet created, studied and reported on by researchers at Rush University Medical Center has been ranked among the top five diets in multiple categories by U.S. News & World Report in its annual “Best Diets” list. The MIND diet was ranked fourth for easiest diet to follow and tied for fourth for best overall, best for healthy eating and best heart-healthy diets.

 In all, the MIND diet was ranked in seven categories, as follows:

  • Easiest Diets to Follow: No. 4
  • Best Diets Overall: No. 4 (tie)
  • Best Diets for Healthy Eating: No. 4 (tie)
  • Best Heart-Healthy Diets: No. 4 (tie)
  • Best Diets for Diabetes: No. 10 (tie)
  • Best Weight-Loss Diets: No. 29 (tie)
  • Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets: No. 33 (tie)

Now in its ninth year, the annual “Best Diets” list provides facts about 35 chosen eating plans and ranks them on a range of levels, from their heart healthiness to their likelihood to help 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.

Martha Clare Morris, ScD, a Rush nutritional epidemiologist, and her colleagues developed the MIND diet based on research showing a correlation linking certain foods and nutrients to effects on brain function.

“Through our research, we found that the MIND diet is associated with dementia prevention,” Morris said. “There is still a great deal of study we need to do in this area, and I expect that we’ll make further modifications as the science on diet and the brain advances.”

Best diet for healthy eating

The MIND diet includes healthy and unhealthy food groups. The healthy food group includes two or more daily servings of vegetables, of which one serving is a leafy green, three servings per day of whole grains; one serving of nuts and beans every other day; poultry and a half cup of berries five days per week; two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil a day; and at least one fish meal weekly. The unhealthy food group limits butter to no more than one to two teaspoons a day, eating less than five servings a week of sweets and pastries, less than four servings a week of red meat, no more than one ounce of whole-fat cheese weekly, and no more than one meal of fried or fast food per week.

The good news about the MIND diet is that benefits have been shown for people following the diet in moderation – meaning one does not have to achieve target goal for each food in order 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. 

Heart-healthy diets

The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, which have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, heart attack and stroke. The MIND diet is a hybrid of the two diets, and thus is likely to provide their cardiovascular benefits, while focusing on foods that aid in brain health.

Some people may be pleased to learn that on the MIND diet, a focus on exclusively berries as the best fruit and consumption of just one serving of fish/seafood per week is sufficient. This is in contrast to the Mediterranean and DASH diets, in which specify three to four daily servings of fruit and with the Mediterranean diet, six weekly servings of fish are consumed.

Easiest diet to follow

“MIND is about changing your lifestyle, not following a fad diet,” said Jennifer Ventrelle, MS, RD, lead dietitian for the MIND Diet Intervention to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease at Rush. “Because it is a set of guidelines instead of strict rules, the MIND diet allows for special days.”

Dishes such as a spinach salad with walnuts, dried cranberries and a balsamic and olive oil dressing are common foods that are easy to obtain that fit the diet’s specifications. A shrimp cocktail can fulfill the weekly seafood requirement.   

“Because the MIND diet calls for daily servings of vegetables, a person can make a plate with salad and 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 realize you’ve eaten.”

Best diet overall

Not only does the MIND diet seem to provide long-term protection against cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease; it also is rich in healthy foods like vegetables, berries, whole grains, fish, olive oil and nuts. 

“What a person eats can have a protective effect on current and long-term health in many different ways,” Morris observed. “The MIND diet encourages the consumption of foods that have been demonstrated to protect against a number of different health conditions, not just dementia, and also discourages foods that can lead to poor health.