Healthy Foods for a Healthy Brain

Did you know that a well-nourished brain is as important as well-nourished muscles, bones, and organs? Did you also know that if your brain is not properly nourished you could suffer from mood disorders, short-term memory problems, fatigue, and insomnia?

Most people wouldn’t think of denying their body the necessary nutrients in order to function and be well. Yet, for many of us, the brain is often deficient in nutrients and the sources of food it requires to be properly nourished. What’s more, we often don’t even realize it!

When your brain is not adequately nourished, your moods, emotions, behavior, and yes, even the rest of your body suffers. Proper brain food is as important as food for your muscles, bones, and organs, and should be as much a part of your daily health routine as exercise, water, and proper rest.

What is Good Brain Food?

Carbohydrates, protein and essential fatty acids are three components of a well balanced diet. They also provide the foundation and building blocks for good brain function and balanced brain chemistry. Without them, your brain will not function optimally.

Protein provides amino acids, the basic building blocks for the brain’s network of neurotransmitters. Without amino acids, there will not be a healthy balance of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and GABA in your brain. Without a healthy balance of these important chemicals, mood disorders, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and poor memory function are common.

Some excellent sources of protein would be lean meats such as poultry, fish, eggs, and cheese. Milks also provide protein. If you suffer from lactose intolerance, unsweetened almond milk is an excellent alternative as a rich source of protein.

Complex Carbohydrates provide the necessary glucose (sugar), the primary fuel used by the brain to produce energy. Complex carbohydrates are broken down slowly during digestion and provide a steady source of sugar for energy. This not only stabilizes moods, but prevents you from feeling hungry, dizzy or tired from blood sugar crashes which result from glucose spikes related to simple carbohydrates found in junk food, for example. Complex carbohydrates are also an excellent source of healing, intestinal fiber which promotes healthy digestion. Whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) lay the foundation for nerve cell development in the brain, along with the neurotransmitters. Without these fatty acids, brain tissue becomes malnourished, nerve cells are weakened, and neurotransmitters are unable to effectively work with message carrying neurons.

This greatly affects our ability to remember things, focus and concentrate, and our ability to learn. EFAs not only feed our brain, but they lubricate delicate cell membranes and improve the appearance of our skin. Excellent sources of essential fatty acids are fatty, cold-water fish such as salmon and trout, olives, extra-virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, nuts, avocados, and butter.

Vitamins & Minerals

In addition to protein, carbohydrates and essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements are also essential for a well-nourished brain. A good quality multi-vitamin is an excellent source of B-vitamins, anti-oxidants (vitamins C & E), and important minerals such as boron, manganese, iron, selenium, calcium, and magnesium – all of which are needed in order for brain biochemical functions to take place.

Foods You Should Avoid

Alcohol – Medical health professionals continue to disagree on the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. While it is generally agreed, that red wine, for example, has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, alcohol in general has a dramatic effect on good brain function, and contributes to mood disorders and other serious health issues for many people.

While moderation is always the key word, given the potential health risks, it’s probably not a bad idea to keep alcohol consumption to a bare minimum.

Artificial Sweeteners and Food Additives – Food dyes and artificial sweeteners have both been linked to mood disorders and depression, ADHD in children, and impulse control issues. Metabolically, these unnatural poisons, along with white flour and hydrogenated fats, take more out of us than they give back. Needless to say, none of them support good health or brain function, and should be avoided at all costs.


Do not underestimate the health benefits restorative sleep brings to your body. In the Western culture, we burn the candle at both ends with sleep often being the first thing we sacrifice. Research has shown over and over again, that a sleep deprived brain is a brain that does not function well.

With the average life span extending well into our 70s, and the baby-boomer work force increasingly working past the traditional retirement age of 65, good brain health is a necessity. Proper nutrients, supplements and healthy sleep will insure that your brain is functioning at its optimum.


Lundin, Mia., Nurse Practitioner. (2009). The Female Brain Gone Insane: An Emergency Guide for Women Who Feel Like Their Life is Falling Apart. Deerfield Park, FL: Health Communications, Inc.

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