Brain Power

The Game-Changing MIND Diet Provides Powerful Brain Food For Kids

It's also one of the more family-friendly nutrition plans around.

A mature father and young son are sitting at the dining table at home enjoying a meal together
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According to researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a relatively new superdiet may have even more upside than previously thought. The MIND diet — first introduced in 2015 by researchers at Rush University Medical Center and the Harvard Chan School of Public Health — was developed to target brain health in aging adults. But in addition to preventing dementia and other forms of cognitive decline, the nutritional strategy is now also linked with better focus in school-aged children.

Borrowing from the Mediterranean and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diets, the MIND diet emphasizes the importance of vegetables, fresh fruit, and legumes. It also includes recommendations for specific foods like berries and leafy greens, which are thought to improve brain health.

In the cross-sectional study, 85 children between the ages of 7 and 11 years kept 7-day diet records that researchers used to calculate a MIND diet score and a healthy eating index (HEI) score, which is a measure of diet quality used to assess how well a set of foods aligns with key recommendations published in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Each child then completed an Eriksen Flanker task, where they were asked to focus on a targeted stimulus while simultaneously facing controlled distractions. This common executive cognitive test is used to assess selective attention and conflict resolution and has been widely used along with similar exercises since the mid-1970s.

“We assessed how adherence to these diets was associated with children’s attentional inhibition — the ability to resist distracting stimuli — and found that only the MIND diet was positively linked with children’s performance on a task assessing attentional inhibition. This suggests that the MIND diet could have the potential to improve children’s cognitive development, which is important for success in school,” said Shelby Keye, Ph.D., who helped conduct the study as a doctoral student and recently presented the results at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.

However, the researchers clearly point out that the study demonstrates an association and not causality, so additional research is required to establish any causal relationship. The team is also interested in conducting similar research on younger children to identify how age and developmental differences might affect results.

Granted, when talking about nutritional changes with kids, parents should avoid using vocabulary that might prove counterproductive. For instance, in their explainer on adopting the Mediterranean diet, the Dallas-based pediatric care group Children’s Health suggests ditching the word “diet” altogether and instead talking about nutritional choices as a lifestyle.

And even when making healthy shifts in eating patterns, it’s always a good idea to keep your child’s pediatrician in the loop in case they have helpful insights or suggestions based on your child’s individual health history.