Top 5 Foods to Support Cognitive Health

Top 5 Foods to Support Cognitive Health

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Dr. Uma Naidoo is a Harvard trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef and nutritional biologist & author of the national & international bestseller: “This is Your Brain on Food.”

Dr. Uma’s BOGOS For Brain Health!

As a Nutritional Psychiatrist I strive to guide individuals in utilizing the power of nutrition for supporting mental fitness and emotional wellbeing through choosing evidence based ‘brain foods. After all optimal physical health paired with great mental fitness is what we need to thrive. 

I have witnessed first-hand the profound effect that these brain foods have on improving a vast variety of mental health conditions ranging from mood disorders like anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder, to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and even aspects of cognitive health like fatigue, brain fog and focus. The key is remembering that brain health is reflective of gut health, so we must choose foods that support both a healthy gut and healthy brain for optimal mental fitness. The following are my six favorite brain foods that I encourage everyone to incorporate into the diet for cognitive health, mood and overall mindset.

Let’s do it! BOGOS:

B: is for BERRIES and rainbow-colored veggies- rich in fiber, antioxidants and vitamins, berries support a healthy microbiome and can reduce inflammation. Rich in fiber, antioxidants and vitamins, berries support a healthy microbiome and can reduce inflammation. Blueberries specifically contain one of the highest concentrations of mental health supporting anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant that supports brain health and memory with age. Including a variety of berries in the diet helps to support healthy brain aging. I love having a quarter cup of blueberries daily as part of a brain healthy breakfast!

O: is for OLIVE OIL - extra virgin olive oil is anti-inflammatory and rich in antioxidants to support autophagy. Populations that consume more olive oil have fewer incidences of Alzheimer’s. Try making a homemade salad dressing with olive oil, lemon juice and fresh herbs!

G: is for GREENS - loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber, greens are especially high in folate which is associated with healthy brain development and a reduced risk of depression. This includes foods like spinach, arugula, romaine, watercress and dandelion greens. Leafy greens are especially important because they are rich in folate (vitamin B9) which has a dietary antidepressant effect. In clinical research low folate in the body has been associated with low mood. Folate is important for brain health because it helps to maintain myelin, a fatty substance that protects nerve endings, and supports the production of neurotransmitters that are essential for maintaining a positive mindset. Adding spinach and romaine lettuce to your morning smoothie, having a large leafy green salad drizzled with olive oil with lunch or adding extra greens to a soup or stew for dinner is a tasty way to incorporate plenty of mood boosting greens into the diet.

O: is for OMEGA-3s - omega-3s are essential fatty acids that support brain health and help to reduce inflammation. Did you know that the brain is made primarily of fat, and it needs an abundance of healthy fats in the diet to maintain its integrity and function? One of my favorite fats for improved cognitive health is omega-3 fatty acids. Their consumption is associated with a reduced risk of anxiety, depression and neurodegenerative diseases. Incorporating fatty fish like wild caught sock-eye salmon and anchovies.  Chia, flax or hemp seeds, or walnuts added to meals also provide omega-3s(ALA) in a less bioavailable form.

S: is for SPICES: no brain food kitchen is complete without an abundance of herbs and spices! Not only do these add incredible flavor to foods, but they are full of bioactive compounds with cognition boosting benefits. For example, the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neurotropic effects of turmeric is used as a powerful medicinal food for improved mood and brain health throughout the world (just don't forget to enjoy with a pinch of black pepper for curcumin bioavailability!). Saffron has also been found to have strong antidepressant effects on individuals with low mood. Similarly, cayenne pepper is noted to improve energy levels while ginger and chamomile can reduce stress. Enjoying fresh herbs like sage and rosemary, which are rich in antioxidants, helps to reduce neuro-inflammation and support a mood boost. Have you heard of my favorite mood boosting golden milk latte yet?

In addition to adding these foods to the diet, it is important to also intentionally avoid more inflammatory foods that can trigger aspects of poor mental fitness such as anxiety, brain fog and fatigue. Examples of such foods include processed seed oils like corn and soybean found in many fried or processed foods, added or refined sugars found in soda and baked goods, processed wheat producers like white bread and pasta, and excess alcohol. Follow my Six Pillars of Nutritional Psychiatry for my main tips on utilizing food to improve mental fitness!

Hungry for more?

In my book, This Is Your Brain On Food, I dive deep into cutting-edge research to explain the innumerable ways in which food contributes to mental health. In doing so, I also seek to show you how to establish and maintain a sound diet to best support your psychological and cognitive health. Hungry for more? You can find me online at, and connect with me on Instagram and Twitter, @DrUmaNaidoo, for real-time updates and news in Nutritional Psychiatry.