'I'm a Neurologist, and This Is What I Eat for Lunch Almost Every Day to Prevent Alzheimer's'

Food can help keep our hearts happy, blood sugar in range and legs moving—quickly—toward a new PR. Though we often refer to body and mind as two separate entities, the brain is, of course, part of the body. With that in mind, dietary choices can also play a role in cognitive health.

"Nutrition plays [a critical role] in overall health, including brain health and the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease," says Dr. Smita Patel, DO, of Endeavor Health's Center for Brain Health. "By understanding these connections, individuals can make more informed choices about their food intake and potentially reduce their susceptibility to chronic, debilitating conditions like Alzheimer's."

OK, so what are we having for lunch? Dr. Patel shares her favorite lunch for reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease and preventing cognitive decline. Let's dig into a lunch that'll power your brain long and short-term.

Related: 'I'm a Neurologist, and This Is My Go-To Dinner For Alzheimer's Prevention'

The Best Lunch for Alzheimer's Risk Reduction

This might sound fancy, but it's actually pretty simple: According to Dr. Patel, the best lunch for Alzheimer's risk reduction is chicken pomegranate quinoa salad. The recipe she loves calls for 3/4 cup of quinoa, 1 Fuji apple, pomegranate seeds, 1/3 cup of almonds, herbs like mint and parsley and boneless, skinless chicken breast. One of the best parts, however, is that you can customize it to your liking.

"It's very versatile," she says. "You can make it vegetarian. You can substitute chicken for mung bean, a plant species in the legume family."

Also, as a busy doctor, Dr. Patel doesn't have a ton of time for meal prep. "It's easy to prepare," she says. "Parts of it can be prepped ahead of time, and [you can] add the dressing when you are ready to eat it. This is a refreshing and filling meal."

Your brain will likely agree. "I also like the balance of protein, veggies and healthy fats, which can provide sustained energy and help stabilize blood sugar levels," she continues.

What does all this nutrient have to do with Alzheimer's disease and cognitive health more broadly? Let's dig into the data.

One 2022 study indicated that animal protein consumption can help prevent cognitive decline in adults with plant-dominant diets. Still, plant-based proteins may also have a place. A large Harvard study that looked at 77,000 people over 20 years found that beans and legumes, particularly lima beans and peas, had the most protective link with cognitive decline.

Vegetables are also a key cog in a brain-healthy diet. A 2022 study found that older adults in Japan who consumed more vegetables were less likely to have dementia.

Healthy fats, like those found in almonds, can also do the brain good. A 2023 meta-analysis of more than 103,000 people reported that gobbling up foods rich in omega-3 could reduce a person's odds of developing dementia and cognitive decline by around 20%.

Related: 'I've Spent 40 Years Studying the Brain, and This Is the #1 Habit I Recommend for Memory Retention'

3 More Tips For Maintaining a Brain-Healthy Diet

1. Minimize ultra-processed and high-sugar foods and drinks

Dr. Patel says that eating diets that go heavy on ultra-processed foods (UPFs) can increase a person's odds of developing numerous chronic conditions, including heart disease and dementia. She points to a cohort study of almost 11,000 people that found that ultra-processed foods were linked with higher rates of executive function decline.

Dr. Patel says foods commonly considered UPFs include:

  • Ice cream

  • Processed meats

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda

  • Processed meats

  • Ready-to-eat frozen meals

2. Follow the Mediterranean diet

Chances are, you've heard of this one—it's only been the U.S. News & World Report's top diet for seven years in a row. "Since 1970, it has been one of the most well-known, well-studied diets for dementia, as well as for heart disease, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes," Dr. Patel says.

In a study of autopsied brains, people who followed the Mediterranean diet and a similar one, DASH (which emphasizes low-salt dietary choices), had lower signs of Alzheimer's.

3. Take your lunch break

Take it from the experts: You shouldn't work through your lunch break. "Lunch breaks allow employees to detach from stress, recharge and regain focus and energy to tackle the rest of the day more effectively," Dr. Patel says. "Taking a dedicated lunch break encourages healthier eating habits, rather than mindlessly snacking or skipping meals."

In an older 2014 study of students, researchers found that people who took shorter lunch breaks made less healthy dietary choices. As a nice bonus, you and your employer may be better for the lunch break. A 2021 study suggested even short breaks could help people learn new skills.

Up Next: 110 Foods You Can Eat on the Mediterranean Diet—From Hummus to Beets to ... Octopus? Use This List to Help You Grocery Shop


  • Dr. Smita Patel, DO, of Endeavor Health's Center for Brain Health

  • Protein intake from different sources and cognitive decline over 9 years in community-dwelling older adults. Frontiers in Public Health.

  • Long-term dietary protein intake and subjective cognitive decline in US men and women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

  • Long-term association of vegetable and fruit intake with risk of dementia in Japanese older adults: the Hisayama study. BMC.

  • The Relationship of Omega-3 Fatty Acids with Dementia and Cognitive Decline: Evidence from Prospective Cohort Studies of Supplementation, Dietary Intake, and Blood Markers. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

  • Association Between Consumption of Ultraprocessed Foods and Cognitive Decline. JAMA Neurology.

  • U.S. News Reveals the 2024 Best Diets. U.S. News & World Report.

  • Association of Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay and Mediterranean Diets With Alzheimer's Disease Pathology. Neurology.

  • Shorter lunch breaks lead secondary-school students to make less healthy dietary choices: multilevel analysis of cross-sectional national survey data. Cambridge University Press.

  • Consolidation of human skill linked to waking hippocampo-neocortical replay. 50 Cell Reports.