Brain Food

How to eat (and drink) your brain to optimal health
Published January 31, 2017

Brain food – is there any truth behind the term? Turns out, the answer’s yes.

Abby Langer, a Registered Dietitian since 1999, says in general, a healthy diet and exercise are good for brain health, but there are some specific brain foods you can add to your meals for added benefits.

Nutrients commonly linked with mental health, according to the Dietitians of Canada report, The Role of Nutrition in Mental Health Promotion and Prevention, include omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B12, among others. Each affects the brain in different ways: vitamin B12 and folate (a B vitamin that’s often called folic acid) affect neurocognitive development (that’s why folic acid is prescribed to pregnant women and women who are likely to become pregnant). Zinc and omega-3s have been tied to the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Brain foods

  • Salmon, trout, mackerel, tofu, chia seeds, ground flaxseeds for omega 3s
  • Watermelon and tomatoes for lycopene – According to Psychology Today, lycopene is an antioxidant, and it regulates genes that affect brain growth and cell growth, linking it to lower rates of several cancer types.
  • Blueberries, grapes, raisins for antioxidants – These blue and purple foods are full of anthocyanins, which the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada explains are powerful antioxidants that protect your cells from damage. They may help reduce cancer risk, and blueberries, in particular, have been tied to memory function.
  • Plant or animal protein sources – Protein, in general, is necessary for optimal brain function.

It is also crucial to hydrate your brain with water. The human brain is 73 per cent water, according to information provided by the United States Geological Survey Water Science School. Our brains need water to create hormones and neurotransmitters.

At the very least, drinking a healthy amount of water will help keep you feeling alert, Langer explains. As for how much water you should drink a day, it depends on your activity level, the climate you live in, your age, and your sex. The guidelines provided by Dietitians of Canada advise a daily fluid intake of 2.2 litres (nine cups) for women 19 and older, and three litres (12 cups) a day for men in the same age bracket. “Fluids” are not limited to just water, but rather include juice, milk, soups, and even coffee and tea.

Langer explains, though coffee and tea are diuretics (meaning they send you to the bathroom), that effect is not enough to warrant discounting them from our daily fluid intake. Though water is obviously one of the best things you can drink, Dietitians of Canada says the notion that everyone requires eight cups of H20 a day is a myth.

Langer shares one final tip for overall health: have a positive attitude about the food you eat. Think of food as something that nourishes you, she says, and eat the foods that do just that. But, she adds, don’t punish yourself if you eat something that’s not as healthy for you sometimes. Just accept it and move on, and don’t put the guilt trip on yourself.

The Role of Nutrition in Mental Health Promotion and Prevention (1): Davison KM, Ng E, Chandrasekera U, Seely C, Cairns J, Mailhot-Hall L, Sengmueller E, Jaques M, Palmer J, Grant-Moore J for Dietitians of Canada. The Role of Nutrition in Mental Health Promotion and Prevention (1). Toronto: Dietitians of Canada, 2012.