Eating a healthy diet is important for a sharp mind. Learn how to pick the best brain foods.

By Katherine Lee
Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPHPrintE-mailWe know that food fuels the body, but a healthy diet can also affect mental health.

“The brain functions primarily on blood sugar,” says Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, PhD, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). “In order to have clear thinking, we need blood sugar in the form of energy, which we get from food.”

To be sure your brain is properly fed, don’t skip meals. Eating breakfast is particularly crucial — you haven’t eaten overnight, so your brain and your body are hungry. “You have much clearer thinking after you have breakfast, which is especially important for children,” says Gazzaniga-Moloo.

A Healthy Diet for Brain Fitness

What we eat can play a key role in brain function. Some good brain food choices include:

The right carbohydrates. “Whole grains, oatmeal, fruits, and vegetables digest relatively slowly so that we get steady energy,” says Gazzaniga-Moloo. When choosing whole grains, try barley, oats, quinoa, and brown rice, suggests Keri Gans, RD, CDN, and a spokesperson for the ADA.
The right fats. Eating healthy fats, particularly omega-3s, may help with brain function, says Gazzaniga-Moloo. Omega-3s are found in fatty fish like salmon, walnuts, and canola and flaxseed oils. “In general, foods that are good for blood flow — whole grains, monounsaturated fats such as avocados, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids — can help brain cells,” says Gans.
Antioxidants. Some research shows that antioxidants can decrease cognitive decline, says Gans. Foods rich in antioxidants include berries, nuts, and seeds.
Iron. Women in particular need to make sure they get enough iron. “Research has shown that when women are iron deficient, it can affect attention,” says Gans. Good sources of iron include dark-green leafy vegetables, beans, meat, and soy products.
Protein. Protein takes longer for the body to digest and helps keep your brain fueled. Remember that when you’re hungry, it’s harder to concentrate, says Gans. Eating protein can stave off that feeling of hunger.
B vitamins. B vitamins, including thiamin, are important for brain function. Alcoholics, who tend to have thiamin deficiency, often show cognitive impairment, says Gazzaniga-Moloo. Early research shows that vitamins E and D may also play a role in brain health, but more study is needed.

Eating a well-balanced diet will enable you to get all these important nutrients for brain function. Aim for eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. “The more color on your plate, the better,” explains Gans.

The Effects of Unhealthy Foods on Brain Function

Just as some foods can help boost brain function, others can have a negative effect on mental health.

High-fat foods. It takes a lot of work for the body to break down a high-fat meal, says Gans. While there isn’t a direct line between high-fat foods and reduced cognitive function, the energy required to digest a lot of fat can lead to fatigue, explains Gazzaniga-Moloo. It’s hard to think clearly when you’re tired.
Foods high in sugar. When you consume too much added sugar it can lead to an energy high followed by a crash, says Gans. To avoid this, skip the sugary snacks and sodas.

Think About Your Drink for Brain Fitness

What you drink can help — or hinder — brain function.

Water. Staying hydrated is important for good brain function because “when we’re dehydrated, it’s draining on the body,” says Gazzaniga-Moloo. And water is the best beverage for keeping your body running smoothly. “Water is vital to energy production in our cells,” adds Gans. “Without it, our nerve transmission is compromised.”
Caffeine. Studies have shown that caffeine in moderate amounts can stimulate people’s thinking and alertness, says Gazzaniga-Moloo.
Alcohol. While drinking a moderate amount of alcohol has not been linked to negative effects on the brain, excessive amounts have been shown to lead to cognitive decline. “One drink a day is okay, but excessive amounts of alcohol can impair memory and concentration,” says Gans.

Fueling your brain isn’t complicated — many of the recommended foods are the same as are recommended for fueling your body. Eat smarter, and both your body and your brain will benefit.
Can you please tell how does fresh fruit and vegetables affect our brains and does yoga have any positive effect of brain?
movers LA
Yes you are right eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables is very good for health and for your mind. Vegetables are full of nutrition’s. I have also come to know about the benefits of fruits and vegetables in my online health and safety courses. I am doing these courses to learn more about healthy and nutritional food. Well thanks for sharing this helpful information.