The DASH and MIND diets
Following on from the development of weight loss diets, from the 1990s, research looked into diets focusing more specifically on two aspects of health: firstly cardiovascular health, followed by mental health. As adaptations of the Mediterranean diet that promotes eating vegetables and whole grain cereals while reducing consumption of red meat, the DASH and MIND diets are gradually proving their worth and scientific validity.
Specialised diets for medical purposes
The DASH diet (an acronym of Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) was developed in the 1990s as a nutritional approach to reducing hypertension, to complement a diet with reduced salt intake. It is mainly based on the principles of the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruit and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, soluble dietary fibre, whole grain cereals and protein of plant origin, while being low in saturated fatty acids. The authors highlight that this diet is high in potassium. The DASH diet is widely known among healthcare professionals as an effective means to regulate blood pressure, and the American Heart Association recommends it for this very purpose. Thus, compared to a standard diet with a daily table salt intake already reduced to 8 g, the DASH diet significantly lowers systolic and diastolic blood pressure in hypertension sufferers (by 11 and 5mmHg respectively) as well as in people with normal blood pressure (by 3 and 2 mmHg). On top of its cardiovascular health benefits, the DASH diet is now seen as one of the best diets for overall good health, in line with the recommendations of public health authorities.
The MIND diet was developed by Martha Claire Morris and her team, and the first results were published in 2015. This diet is also based on the principles of the Mediterranean diet and revisits the DASH diet, with greater emphasis on products and ingredients that are favourable to brain health, hence its name MIND, an acronym of Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. The MIND diet gives pride of place to a list of ten foodstuffs: green vegetables (spinach, lettuce, green beans) and other vegetables, nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds), berries (raspberries, redcurrants, blueberries), dried beans, whole grain cereals, fish and poultry (occasionally), olive oil, and even wine in moderation. This diet does not exclude anything but recommends cutting down on five kinds of food: red meat, butter and fatty cheese, pastries and fried food. Cutting down does not mean cutting out, so the advice is to consume no more than four portions of red meat per week, and no more than five pastries. This means that dieters can still enjoy their favourite dishes and are less likely to become frustrated.
This MIND diet shows promising results with regard to the aims of maintaining good mental health as well as good general health. More extensive, long-term studies will however be necessary if researchers are to be certain of the positive impact of this diet.
As is the case for the Mediterranean diet, the DASH and MIND diets are relatively easy to follow, and dieters are less likely to give up than people following diets that are more restrictive or require significant behavioural changes.
The DASH, MIND and Mediterranean diets do not exclude any nutrient groups. They recommend a variety of nutrient sources in the right proportions, as per international nutritional recommendations. These diets therefore still leave room for starchy food (carbohydrates broken down into sugars), protein and fat, unlike other diets that either heavily restrict or promote one of these groups. Thus, the Dukan and Atkins diets drastically cut carbohydrates and fat in favour of protein, while the Palaeolithic diet heavily restricts starch in favour of fat and protein. Although such imbalances can have beneficial effects in the short term, especially on weight loss, the scientific community has serious doubts about their long-term results.
APPEL, Lawrence J., MOORE, Thomas J., OBARZANEK, Eva, et al., 1997, A clinical trial of the effects of dietary patterns on blood pressure. New England Journal of Medicine, 1997, vol. 336, no 16, p. 1117-1124. DOI: 10.1056/NEJM199704173361601
SIERVO, Mario, LARA, Jose, CHOWDHURY, Shakir, et al., 2015, Effects of the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet on cardiovascular risk factors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Nutrition, 2015, vol. 113, no 01, p. 1-15. (oi:10.1017/S0007114514003341)
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