How Food Affects Your Brain
By Dr. Madhavi Gupta, M.D.
When it comes to your brain health, eating the right foods, and avoiding the wrong ones should be a top priority. The right foods provide energy, optimize your physical health, and improve your body’s metabolism. Eating a diet rich in healthy fats, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other key nutrients is crucial for optimizing your brain health. These foods can positively affect your brain health and mood.
There’s also a powerful connection between the gut and the brain. The network of neurons lining our guts is so extensive, some scientists call it the “second brain.” It plays a significant role in determining our mental state and plays key roles in certain diseases throughout the body.
Researchers have found that the health of your gut can influence your thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviors, memories, and overall mental function (1). Therefore, your gut health is directly related to your brain health, and both need to be optimized to perform at their best.
Here are some foods that positively affect your brain.
Omega-3 fatty fats. A large body of scientific research suggests that diets that are rich in omega-3 fatty fats, particularly docosahexanoic acid (DHA), are associated with positive brain health (2).
Flavanoids (Antioxidants), found in foods like green tea, coffee, cocoa, red wine, vegetables, and fruits, correlate to improved cognitive function (3).
B vitamins, particularly B6, folate, and B12, have been shown to have positive effects on memory and even improve brain health (4). We advocate the methylated versions and will go into the importance of methylation in its own chapter.
Vitamin D. Researchers have found that concentrations of vitamin D, which the body naturally produces from sunlight exposure and is found in fatty fish, mushrooms, and dairy, are related to brain health (5). It also boosts mood, supports immunity, and builds healthy bones.
Additional vitamins (e.g., vitamin C and E) and various nutrients (e.g., choline, calcium, copper, iron, selenium, and zinc) have been found to play important roles in brain function and delaying decline. This means these vitamins and nutrients play both short- and long-term roles.
By making some changes in your diet, you may significantly improve your brain. Start now by reducing the foods that contribute to illness and upping the foods that contribute to wellness.
Food Suggestions For Good Health
- Eliminate most sugar, all fruit juice, and all sugary sodas.
- Eat fruit sparingly. Choose lower glycemic, higher antioxidant fruits, such as blueberries.
- Eliminate most dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt) if it tends to make you congested or phlegmy.
- Increase leafy green veggies (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens). Try to get 2 servings of veggies at each meal.
- Eat plenty of high-quality proteins (beans, grass-fed or pasture-raised lean meats, wild-caught fish, pasture-raised poultry).
- Eat high-quality fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, butter, ghee) at each meal.
Brain Healthy Meal Ideas
- Berry Smoothie
- Vegetable Omelet
- Coconut Berry Shake
- Grainless Granola with 4oz Amasai (a fermented African dairy drink)
- Superfood Salad
- Grass-Fed Beef Stir-Fry
- Salad with Chicken, Salmon, or Eggs
- Grass-Fed Hot Dogs with Sauteed Peppers and Onions
- Vegetable Soup
- 1/4 cup Almonds or Pumpkin Seeds
- 1/4 cup Hummus or Guacamole with Vegetables
- Amasai or Coconut Milk with Chia Seeds
- Wild Salmon with Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Carrot Medley
- Grass-Fed Burger w/ Raw Cheddar and Sauteed Greens
- Organic Free-Range Chicken Tenders with Mixed Vegetables
- Grass-Fed Meat Chili with Mashed Cauliflower
- Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps
- Romijn JA, Corssmit EP, Havekes LM, Pijl H. Gut-brain axis. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2008;11(4):518-521. doi:10.1097/MCO.0b013e328302c9b0.
- McCann JC, Ames BN. Is docosahexaenoic acid, an n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid, required for development of normal brain function? An overview of evidence from cognitive and behavioral tests in humans and animals. Am J Clin Nut. 2005;82(2):281-295.
- Letenneur J, Proust-Lima C, Le Gouge A, Dartigues JF, Barberger-Gateau P. Flavonoid intake and cognitive decline over a 10-year period. Am J Epidemiol. 2007;165(12):1364-1371. doi:10.1093/aje/kwm036.
- Bryan J, Calvaresi E, Hughes D. Short-term folate, vitamin B-12 or Vitamin B-6 supplementation slightly affects memory performance but not mood in women of various ages. J Nutr. 2002;132(6):1345-1356.
- Przbelski RJ, Binkley NC. Is vitamin D important for preserving cognition? A positive correlation of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration with cognitive function. Arch Biochem Biophys. 2007;460(2):202-205. Doi:10. 1016/j.abb.2006.12.018.