Mediterranean, DASH and MIND diets: a beginner’s guide

October 28, 2020

The Mediterranean, DASH and MIND diets have been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia later in life from anywhere between 20% and 50%.

But what do they involve and why are they so good for us?

Eat the Mediterranean way

Regularly voted the best diet plan, the Mediterranean diet is linked to everything from better heart health and a lower risk of dementia to stronger bones and a longer life.

Based on the traditional cuisine of Greece, Italy, Spain, France and other countries bordering the Med, it’s rich in fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds and olive oil.

Fish, poultry, dairy products and eggs are also central but in smaller amounts. Red meat should only be eaten occasionally and a moderate amount of red wine is allowed with meals.

What’s its secret?

It seems that it’s the combination of all the healthy foods and fats that is so good for us, rather than one particular ‘super-food’.

Healthy monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, are one of the cornerstones and should be used instead of the saturated fat found in butter, ghee and lard. Nuts and seeds also contain monounsaturated fat, which helps lower levels of artery-clogging cholesterol.

Oily fish, including salmon, herring and mackerel, are packed with omega-3 fatty acids. These reduce inflammation that can lead to heart attacks and strokes and are an essential component of brain cells.

These health benefits, combined with the tastiness, sustainability, family-friendliness and simplicity of the Mediterranean diet have led to it being crowned the best overall diet of by a panel of 25 doctors health experts in the US for three years running (2018-2020).

What about the DASH diet?

Developed in the 1990s to tackle high blood pressure without using drugs, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, is bursting with foods that are low in sodium and high in potassium, magnesium and calcium – nutrients that help reduce blood pressure.

In line with the Mediterranean diet, it advocates eating lots of fruit and vegetables and whole grains, as well as fish, poultry, beans and nuts and seeds. Red meat is limited and dairy products should be low fat, to cut saturated intake, but the use of olive oil isn’t emphasised.

Unlike the Mediterranean diet, it specifies the number of servings of each food group that that should be eaten per day – and the size of those portions.

So where does the MIND diet fit in?

The new kid on the block, the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet combines aspects of the Mediterranean and DASH diets to create an eating plan that focuses on brain health.

Instead of simply advising more veg, it tells you to fill up on green leafy vegetables, like spinach and kale, which are known to slow the ageing of the brain.

And rather than recommending lots of fruit, it zeros in on berries because they have been specifically linked to keeping the mind sharp as we age.