It may seem like Alzheimer’s disease is something that some people are simply destined to develop. But that's not the case, Dr. Uma Naidoo, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, told TODAY. There are some brain health factors that are absolutely in your control — including your food choices, she said.
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.
Prioritizing gut health can help cut through brain fog
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, Naidoo said. 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.
The goal here is to balance your gut microbiome, the natural ecosystem of bacteria and other microbes in your gut that can aid in digestion. If that balance is thrown off (by long-term eating habits, illness or other factors, for instance), it can have effects beyond the gastrointestinal tract and may even impact the way you think and feel. In turn, choosing high-fiber foods that promote "good" bacteria in the gut may ease brain fog symptoms.
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. Regular exercise (ideally three hours of rigorous activity every week), quality sleep and staying on top of regular doctor's appointments and chronic health conditions can all help as well.
These types of diet and lifestyle habits "may be all that some need for improved brain health, while for others these practices complement more traditional psychiatric treatment and medications which address the underlying chemical imbalances that manifest in certain conditions," Naidoo said. "I like to think of these dietary practices as additional tools in the toolbox for supporting mental fitness and reducing symptoms of conditions like anxiety and depression."
If you're concerned about your brain health or want to reduce symptoms of brain fog, switching up your habits to prioritize BOGOS — as well as fitness and sleep — can all help.