5 foods that can improve brain health and may prevent dementia
Whether you're still adjusting to working from home or feeling the lingering effects of long COVID-19, brain fog is an increasingly common complaint these days.
You might find it more difficult to concentrate than usual or have a harder time making decisions, for example, but what you eat can help — or hinder — your ability to think clearly.
In fact, nutrition is a major contributing factor to brain fog, Dr. Uma Naidoo, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, told TODAY.
Rather than relying on foods high in refined sugar or carbs for energy, she recommends going with high-fiber options like vegetables, berries, legumes and lentils that will keep you feeling satisfied and your gut happier.
Naidoo also said your food choices can lower the chances of developing neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
In fact, eating a variety of foods rich in certain nutrients can help promote brain health, fight brain fog and may even reduce your chances for developing neurological conditions later in life. In honor of National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, Naidoo shared some of her tips to eat for better brain health.
Keep BOGOS foods in mind
When putting together a meal, Dr. Naidoo recommends opting for BOGOS — berries, olive oil, greens, omega-3s and spices — to help give your brain a health boost.
Blueberries and raspberries contain antioxidants and other nutrients that promote memory functioning and healthy brain aging. Naidoo also stresses that thanks to their high fiber, vitamin and mineral content, berries support a healthy microbiome and can help to reduce inflammation. She suggests adding fresh berries to your breakfast.
Research suggests that consuming extra-virgin olive oil is associated with a lower risk for Alzheimer's because compounds in this ingredient can assist in autophagy, the brain's natural cellular clean-up process, Naidoo explained. "Adding extra virgin olive oil to homemade salad dressings or drizzling over a green salad packed with a rainbow of veggies is a great way to reap these benefits!" she told TODAY.
With their high levels of folate, leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard are another excellent addition to a meal, Naidoo said. People who don't get enough folate, a form of vitamin B9, may be more likely to develop neurological and mental health conditions such as dementia and depression.
It also pays to look for foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which some research indicates can help support the functioning of brain cells and reduce your risk for Alzheimer's. Fish as well as certain nuts and seeds can be excellent sources of omega-3s. "Fatty fish such as wild-caught sock-eye salmon and anchovies, as well as various nuts and seeds, provide these essential nutrients," Naidoo said.
Finally, various spices "like turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, saffron, rosemary and ginger add color and flavor to our food, while each possesses brain-healthy and even mood-boosting properties," Dr. Naidoo explained.
Nutrition is just one piece of maintaining brain health
Although making healthier food choices can be a significant way to protect your neurological and mental health, it's best to think of nutrition as simply one of many lifestyle strategies to promote brain functioning. Prayer, regular exercise, quality sleep and medical exams can all help as well.