Brain Food: Key Nutrients to Help Fuel your Brain and Mood
The brain is like any other organ in the body, it needs good quality nutrition to be as healthy as possible. Just like fiber is good for our intestines or kale and spinach are good for our eyes, our brains need nutrients too.
The brain is sensitive to what we eat in our daily lives. To remain healthy, it needs the following nutrients:
- Healthy fats
- Vitamins and minerals
The brain is made up of billions of nerve cells, known as neurons. Neurons in the brain talk to each other using neurotransmitters and the brain talks o the rest of the body, using nerves.
Neurons are made up of mostly fat: about 60% of the brain is fat; about 30% of the total fat is DHA, a type of omega-3 fat. The brain is also made of protein.
Neurons talk to each other by using neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are made from amino acids, and we get amino acids from protein. Neurons are a special type of cell because they use EPA, another kind of omega-3 fat and also choline, a vitamin-B like nutrient to function properly. Like all cells in the body, neurons also need a steady supply of vitamins and minerals every day, eating nutritious foods will give your brain the nutrients it needs.
Nutrition for a healthy brain
Carbohydrate is digested/broken down to glucose, a sugar that our brains use for fuel, or energy. In fact, the brain uses about 20% of all the carbohydrate that we eat.
Good sources of carbohydrate are:
- Fruits [fresh, frozen, canned in juice]
- Small amounts of dried fruit
- Starchy vegetables such as beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, parsnips, squash
- Whole grains
- Dairy: milk, yogurt
- Pulses which include chickpeas, lentils, dried peas and beans
The two omega-3 fats that are very important for the brain, and that many people are not getting enough of, are DHA and EPA. Think of DHA for structure, and EPA for function.
Good sources of omega-3 fats are:
Fatty fish like sardines, salmon, trout, herring and mackerel
- Omega-3 fortified eggs; both shelled and liquid egg products
- Fish oil or algae oil supplements
- If you eat fatty fish twice a week, take 500mg of EPA & DHA from supplements per day
- If you don’t eat fish, take 1000mg of EPA & DHA from supplements per day
Vitamin D is used by nearly every cell and tissue in the body, including the brain. We can get vitamin D from the sun, but most of us don't get nearly as much as we should. There are very few food sources of vitamin D; only fatty fish has a good amount. Most people are deficient in vitamin D most of the year.
Supplements are needed to get the most of this important nutrient. A good amount is 2000-4000 IU per day.
Choline is used by the brain to make neurotransmitters and is important for overall well being. A lot of people are not getting enough because they’ve been scared off of healthy traditional foods like eggs and liver.
Good sources of choline are:
- Eggs [choline is found in the yolk]. If you like eggs, try to have 6 eggs a week
- Beef and chicken liver. If you like liver, having 3oz of liver, 2-3 times per month is a good guideline
- Fatty fish: salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout and herring
- Soy lecithin
Protein is digested/broken down into amino acids. Amino acids are used to make other proteins in the body like antibodies to fight infections, new skin & hair, red blood cells to give us energy and more. Amino acids are also used to make neurotransmitters. It’s good to have a good source of protein at each meal and snack.
Good sources of protein are:
- 4 oz. of beef, pork, poultry, fish, lamb etc (choose fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, trout or mackerel more often)
- ½ cup of egg/salmon/tuna or chopped meat salad
- 120 g (drained tin of canned tuna or shrimp. Choose packed in water where possible)
- ½ a 210 g can of salmon
- 1/3 cup roasted soy beans ‘soy nuts’
- ½ cup cooked soy beans
- 1 cup cooked pulses [chickpeas, lentils, dried peas & beans]
- ¾ cup firm tofu
- ¾ cup 1% cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
- ¾ cup Greek yogurt
- 2 whole eggs plus 2 egg whites
- ¾ cup liquid egg product OR egg whites [from a carton, it’s easy to use]
- 1 scoop of whey protein powder
- Hemp, brown rice, pea or fermented soy protein powder [check label for serving size; typically 1/4 to 1/3 cup]
This content is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.