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MIND Diet vs Mediterranean Diet: Which is Better?

People are turning to plant-based diets for their health and for the environmental benefits.  So let’s compare the MIND diet vs the Mediterranean diet.  Both are popular diets that focus on plant-based foods and are generally easy to follow. 

Which one of these healthy eating patterns is for you?  Read on to find out!

MIND Diet: What is it?

Both the DASH diet, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (high blood pressure) and the Mediterranean diet are beneficial for brain function as we age.  In 2015, Dr. Martha Clare Morris and others at Rush University Medical Center and the Harvard Chan School of Public Health created the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) score. 

This combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diet focused on foods that best impact brain health.  They then followed a group of almost 1,000 older adults for approximately a decade to see the effects on cognition.

The researchers found that people with a higher MIND diet score had significantly slower rates of cognitive decline as they aged.  In fact, the difference was the equivalent of being 7.5 years younger (1)!  Although clinical trials are ongoing to confirm these findings, the results are very promising.

MIND Diet Foods

The MIND diet suggests 9 specific foods to eat regularly and 5 to avoid.

Foods to Include on the MIND Diet 

Foods to IncludeServing SizeServings
Leafy green vegetables1 cup raw
½ cup cooked
6+ servings per week
Vegetables, other than leafy greens½ cup raw or cooked1+ servings per day
Whole grains1 oz slice bread
½ cup cooked pasta, rice or oatmeal
3+ servings per day
Nuts⅓ cup or 1.5 oz 
2 Tbsp nut butter 
2 Tbsp or ½ oz seeds
5+ servings per week
Beans½ cup cooked4+ servings per week
Berries½ cup fresh, frozen or canned 
¼ cup dried
2+ servings per week
Poultry3 oz2+ servings per week
Fish3 oz1+ serving per week
Olive Oil (as main source of fat)2 tsp1 serving per day

Foods to Avoid on the MIND Diet

Foods to AvoidServing SizeServings
Butter and margarine1 Tbsp<1 per day
Cheese1.5 oz<1 per week
Red Meat3-4 oz3 or less per week
Fried Foodeg: 12-15 French fries<1 per week
Pastries and sweetseg: 1-3 cookies, depending on size<4 per week

Health Benefits of the MIND Diet

Cognitive Health

As mentioned above, the original research on the MIND diet found a link between this eating pattern and slower rates of cognitive decline with aging (1).  Subsequent studies have generally confirmed these findings (2).  Additional research has shown that the MIND diet can also help slow cognitive decline after a stroke (3).  

Mental Health

The typical American (Western) diet has been linked to increased risk of depression.  In contrast, the MIND diet is associated with a lower risk of depression (4).

Other Diseases

The MIND diet combines aspects of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, both of which lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer.

Environmental Benefits

Because the MIND diet is a plant-based diet, it is healthy for both you and the earth.  Plant-based diets generally use fewer natural resources and release less carbon dioxide into the air during production than other diets.

How Does the MIND Diet Work?

Although it’s not entirely clear, there are several theories on how the MIND diet helps protect brain function.

Antioxidant Content

The MIND diet is high in antioxidants which decrease oxidative stress and its damaging effects on the brain.  In addition, diets high in antioxidants have been linked to decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, both of which are linked to development of Alzheimer’s disease (5).


The MIND diet is high in fruits and vegetables and other foods that contain not only high amounts of antioxidants, but also anti-inflammatory compounds.  

Your immune system is activated by anything it recognizes as a foreign substance.  This is important to protect you from infection, but when out of control, your body could remain in a constant state of immune activation, also referred to as inflammation.  Diets high in anti-inflammatory foods can help counteract this effect.

Trans Fats and Saturated Fat 

Both trans and saturated fatty acids raise your LDL (or bad) cholesterol.  High LDL cholesterol is linked to increased risk of Alzheimer’s (as well as heart disease).

Beta-amyloid Plaques

Many factors lead to development of Alzheimer’s disease, one of which appears to be presence in the brain of beta-amyloid (Aβ) plaques.  Diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and nuts (like the MIND diet) have been associated with a decreased risk of developing these plaques (6).

Mediterranean Diet: What is it?

The Mediterranean Diet is based on the traditional diets of those countries that border the Mediterranean Sea such as France, Greece, Italy and Spain.  As early as the 1950s, scientists noted heart disease was not as common among people living in the Mediterranean region compared to those living in the United States.  A main cause of the difference was determined to be the foods eaten in this region, which was later named the Mediterranean diet. 

Mediterranean Diet Foods

This eating plan includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats (such as olive oil).  It also includes fish, poultry, eggs and dairy in moderation, and limited intake of processed foods, red meat and sweets.  

In comparison, a typical American diet is almost exactly the opposite, containing a large amount of highly processed foods, red meat, sweets and dairy, and very little fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.  

There are only specific amounts of a few foods recommended on the Mediterranean diet.  In general, it is a way of eating in which all meals are based on whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, herbs and spices. Water is the main beverage, with wine in moderation (if you choose to consume wine, do so in moderation; no more than one 5 oz glass per day). A few of the specific recommendations on portions from the Cleveland Clinic are listed in the table below.

Foods to Include on the Mediterranean Diet

Foods to IncludeServing SizeServings
Fish and seafood3-4 oz2+ per week
Olive Oil1 Tbsp1-4 per day
Fruit½ – 1 cup3 per day
Vegetables½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw3 per day
Poultry3-4 oz1-2 per week
Eggs1 eggUp to 4 per week
DairyCheese 1.5 oz
Greek yogurt 1 cup
1-2 per week
Beans½ cup3 per week
Nuts¼ cup
2 Tbsp nut butter
3 per week
Whole grains and starchy vegetables1 oz slice bread
½ cup cooked pasta, rice or oatmeal
3-6 per day

Foods to Avoid on the Mediterranean Diet

Foods to AvoidServing SizeServings
Red meat3 oz1 per week
Processed meatavoid
Sweetseg: 1-3 cookies, depending on size<1 per week

Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Heart Health

Following a Mediterranean diet may decrease risk of cardiovascular disease by 25-30% (7, 8, 9, 10).  Cardiovascular disease is any disorder of the heart or blood vessels.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), major risk factors for cardiovascular disease are high blood pressure, high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and secondhand smoke exposure, obesity, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity.  

The Mediterranean diet has a positive effect on many of these risk factors, including decreasing blood pressure (11, 12), helping with weight loss (when combined with physical activity) (13, 14), and decreasing risk of developing diabetes (15).


Obesity is a global and growing problem.  Adoption of a typical American (or Western) diet is associated with increases in obesity (16).  Conversely, following a Mediterranean diet has been found to decrease both weight and waist circumference (17).

Mental and Cognitive Health

The Mediterranean diet has been linked to a decreased risk of developing depression (18, 19) and a 33% decreased risk of developing cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s (20).  Following the Mediterranean diet has all the heart health benefits listed above, and these benefits are associated with lower risk of mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Decreased Risk of Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic Syndrome (MetS) is a combination of risk factors including central obesity (belly fat), dyslipidemia, impaired glucose metabolism, elevated blood pressure, and low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) (21).  The Mediterranean diet can decrease your risk of developing MetS and many of the risk factors for MetS (22).

Other Disease

Following a Mediterranean diet may reduce your risk of cancer (23).  It may also decrease your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by 25% compared with a typical American diet (24).  It can also help you maintain lean body mass and bone density as you age, and manage your weight – read more about that here.

Environmental Benefits

In addition to its many health benefits, the Mediterranean diet contributes to a healthy planet as well.  The foods that comprise the bulk of the Mediterranean diet are plant-based and their production has a lesser impact on the environment than animal products or highly processed foods (25).  

How Does the Mediterranean Diet Work?


Because the Mediterranean diet is full of foods rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, it is associated with lower risk of inflammation.  According to the American Heart Association (AHA), inflammation is common in patients with heart disease and stroke.

Blood Sugar 

The Mediterranean diet has beneficial effects on blood sugar levels.  This may be due to the high fiber content and the reduced levels of highly processed and high sugar foods.

Body Mass Index

Following a Mediterranean diet is linked with lower body mass index (BMI).  Lower BMI can protect you from heart disease, diabetes and MetS.

The Mediterranean diet is generally easy to follow and most people can maintain it long-term (14).  It is recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the AHA as a healthful eating pattern.  To gain the full benefits of the Mediterranean diet, you still need to watch your portions and be physically active.

MIND Diet vs Mediterranean Diet: Which is Right for You?

While the Mediterranean diet can help prevent mild cognitive impairment and the development of dementia, the MIND diet has a greater effect in this area (26).  

The Mediterranean diet aims to promote overall health, and is particularly useful for prevention of cardiovascular disease.  The MIND diet is directly aimed at maintaining brain health, but is also an overall healthful eating plan.  Whichever eating plan suits you, other lifestyle factors are still important to overall health and brain health.  These include exercise, sleep, social support and other factors.  

Should you Adopt a MIND Diet or Mediterranean Diet?  

Both dietary patterns are plant-based with lots of great health benefits.  If you want a general guideline to follow for a healthy diet, the Mediterranean diet may be best.  While the MIND diet does recommend specific quantities of certain foods, if you are looking for brain benefits, that may be the best choice for you.  Whichever you choose, even small steps towards these types of eating patterns can have a big impact.  

Pro-tip:  Try replacing one meat-based meal each week with fish or beans.  Or replace one dessert each week with fresh berries.  Once one change becomes a habit, add another.  By making a small change every few weeks, you can be eating a much more healthful diet in a matter of months.   Your waistline and your brain cells will thank you! 

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