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This Is The Best Grocery Aisle To Shop For Your Brain Health. Hint: It’s Not Produce

Fortune Well June 18, 2024


This Is The Best Grocery Aisle To Shop For Your Brain Health. Hint: It’s Not Produce

Dr. Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, and author of This is Your Brain on Food, is dedicated to discussing the critical link between brain health and mental health. 

“Food can have such a powerful impact on our brain health,” she says in a newly released class on MasterClass about brain health. “That power is right at the end of your fork.”

For starters, neuroinflammation—an inflammatory response in the brain—is one of the driving mechanisms of mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, Naidoo tells Fortune. It can affect the neural circuits in the brain responsible for mood regulation. Excess sugar from ultra-processed foods, a cause of inflammation, damages the brain’s neurons responsible for key functions like memory and attention. It’s precisely why lifestyle changes like diet are recommended to help manage depression and anxiety and to protect the brain against age-related diseases like dementia.

One way to offset the inflammation process in the brain is to eat antioxidant-rich foods like berries, beans, artichokes, and a range of spices to rid the body of free radicals, which cause cell damage and stress the body and brain. Still, Naidoo says that often, people are overwhelmed by the abundance of choices in the supermarket and don’t know where to start. 

“When we go to the supermarket, our brain and our minds are hijacked by food advertising, and that’s not necessarily the marketing that’s best for our brain,” she says. 

While Naidoo emphasizes shopping the perimeter of supermarkets where you find produce, grass-fed meats, and dairy products, she also recommends taking a pause in a central aisle of the store. 

With a diversity of colors, scents, and brain-healthy options, the spice aisle is a must-hit on your next grocery run. 

Spices are not only flavorful and versatile, they “add powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to any food that you eat,” Naidoo says, adding that it’s best to buy the spices without added preservatives, salt, and sugar. 

Naidoo recommends grabbing these five spices on your next grocery run.  


Turmeric contains the active ingredient curcumin, which is heavily responsible for turmeric’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities. Turmeric also improves blood sugar and insulin levels, helping reduce the risk of high blood pressure and obesity. 

Naidoo also recommends adding a pinch of black pepper to the turmeric. It activates the curcumin and makes it 20 times more bioavailable, making it more efficiently absorbed by the body to take effect. 

Consider adding turmeric to your tea or latte or flavoring a rice, protein, or stew dish. 


Consuming fresh or dried mint may also help strengthen the brain, Naidoo says, noting that the dried spice is more concentrated than the fresh one. 

“Mint has a powerful antioxidant called luteolin, which actually helps with brain fog,” she says. 

Consider adding mint to your water or tea. 

Garlic & Ginger 

Garlic and ginger are vital spices for immune health. “Garlic is a prebiotic that helps balance your gut by stimulating healthy bacteria growth,” Naidoo previously told Fortune. And recall being told to sip on a ginger ale when you’re feeling a stomach ache? Ginger, which also has anti-inflammatory properties, helps with nausea and can help heal the gut and brain by reducing inflammation. 

It’s also a common ingredient in essential oils because of its calming qualities through the compound gingerol, which can help reduce stress. 


Spicy food lovers are in luck. Capsaicin is responsible for giving chili its heat factor. It’s also been used as a homeopathic remedy for a variety of ailments and can also boost mood. 

“Capsaicin acts on certain neurotransmitters, and it is linked to antidepressant effects through a type of neuroreceptor called the NMDA receptor,” Naidoo says. Studies in animal models verified capsaicin’s antidepressant qualities. 

You can get chili peppers in the produce section, along with the ground chili in the spice aisle. 

While overhauling your diet in light of protecting our brains can feel overwhelming, Naidoo recommends making a few minor adjustments to start. Keeping your eyes peeled for spices in the grocery store is just one way to prioritize brain health. 

“As Americans, our reliance on ultra-processed foods and sugar in pretty much everything that we consume is not our fault,” she says. “We don’t have to give up everything we like. It’s about the slow and steady snackable brain changes we can make.” 

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