Brain Food

brain food includes fruits and vegetables

Why should we be concerned about eating "Brain food"?

What we are really talking about here is proper nutrition which will enhance our cognitive function, and our mental processes generally - such as perception, reasoning and judgment. Proper nutrition is critical to our mental health.

Lack of proper nutrients will often leave us feeling less alert and mentally fatigued or foggy. No wonder a drink of water or a nutritious snack can perk us up and make us feel better.

There are a few words we need to be familiar with and understand as we begin talking about brain food and nutrition for the brain. I have tried to supply a definition as well as foods in which the chemical is found. Understanding these definitions will help us understand why the listed foods are considered good for the brain.

  • Acetylcholine. A brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that plays a key role in cognition and reasoning. People with Alzheimer's Disease often have acetylcholine deficiency - research tries to identify foods that prevent acetylcholine breakdown or add choline to brain tissues.
  • Choline. Improves memory because it assists in neurotransmitter function. Although it is not a B Vitamin, it is similar and is often lumped in with them. It is important in the brain development of fetuses and infants, as well as helping to prevent memory loss associated with aging. 
  •  Foods that contain choline are beef liver, egg yolks, lean ground beef, cauliflower, navy beans, tofu, almonds and peanut butter, soybeans, potatoes, lentils, oats, sesame seeds and flax seeds.
  • Tyrosine. A nonessential amino acid that is produced in the body from phenylalanine. It functions as a nutritional ingredient in the synthesis of the neurotransmitters epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine. These neurotransmitters are important for brain health, nerve impulse transmission and the prevention of depression, as well as alertness and memory.
  •  Good sources include any meat or dairy product, eggs, almonds, avocados, bananas, and yogurt, to name a few.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. A large portion of the gray matter of the brain is made up of DHA which is one form of Omega-3 fatty acids. Neurons are also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. It is an essential fat which promotes a healthy emotional balance and a positive mood. 
  • Foods that are rich in Omega-3s are sea vegetables, spirulina, flax and evening primrose, black currrent seed, borage seeds, eggs and whole grains.
  • Carotenes. Important antioxidants which help protect the blood vessels and brain tissue. 
  •  They are found in orange and yellow vegetables.  Foods that they are found in are leafy greens, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, apricots and yams.
  • Flavonoids. Help protect blood vessels and brain tissue. They enhance the power of your vitamin C, protects cells from oxygen (free radical) damage, and prevent excessive inflammation.
  •  Sources of flavonoids include: apples, apricots, blueberries, pears, raspberries, strawberries, black beans, cabbage, onions, parsley, pinto beans, and tomatoes.
  • Carnitine. Found throughout the body. Helps transform fats into mitochondria and improves the activity of important brain neuro-transmitters such as dopamine and acetylcholine. 
  •  This is found in milk, fish and other animal protein.
  • Antioxidants and Free Radicals. Free radicals are produced when a cell converts oxygen into energy. These free radicals at normal levels help keep the body healthy by ridding the body of harmful toxins. However, in excess levels, the free radicals will damage cells, proteins, and DNA (genetic material). Other free radicals can be produced outside of the body by such things as cigarette smoke, alcohol, X-rays, and polution. 
  •  To help stop the production of free radicals you can use Vitamins E, C and Beta Carotene. Antioxidants are nutrients (vitamins and minerals) which are capable of counteracting the damaging effects caused by free radicals. 
  •  The best antioxidant fruits and vegetables as listed by the Department of Agriculture are: blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, spinach, raspberries, brussel sprouts, plums, broccoli, beets, avocados, oranges, red grapes, red bell peppers, cherries and kiwis.

With these things in mind, let's get on with the foods and herbs that feed our brains (brain food) that will keep us sharp and help us grown mentally.

Here's a list of brain food. For a list of herbs follow this link.

Many foods contain nutrients that nourish our brains. Actually, healthy, nutritious food helps not only our brain, but every system in our bodies.

The idea really isn't to find foods that are particularly high in antioxidants or that contain choline (a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in cognition and reasoning), but rather to find balance and create a lifestyle of healthy eating. Balance is essential, especially balancing proteins, good fats, and good carbohydrates. If we do this, everything else falls together.

By doing this we will not only improve our brain health by eating brain food, but we will improve the performance of all of our critical body systems.

Water. The first brain food we will mention is water. Because your brain is 80% water, it is important that adequate water is consumed to keep the brain hydrated.

Inadequate amounts of water intake results in dehydration and makes it impossible for the neurons to function properly. It can also result in the production of stress hormones. Drink 8 or 9, 8 oz. glasses of water a day. See the page on drinking water for an easy formula for how much water you need. This will make sure there is an adequate flow of water in and out of the brain to allow for proper functioning.

Now, here is a list of other brain food that has been proven to nourish our brains.

  • Egg yolks or eggs in general
  • soybeans
  • cabbage
  • peanuts, almonds, walnuts - all nuts actually
  • cauliflower and parsnips
  • cold water fish and Omega-3 oils
  • fresh sprouts
  • kefir
  • lemons and grapefruit
  • poultry
  • wheat bran
  • all whole grains
  • dark chocolate
  • seeds
  • meat
  • milk and yogurt
  • apples, bananas, grapes and oranges
  • blueberries and strawberries and melon
  • foods with lots of color - they contain carotenes and flavonoids
  • leafy green vegetables
  • beans
  • cultured soybean products such as miso and tempeh

Be sure to go see what herbs work wonderfully as brain food.

Bad Food. One more thing we need to talk about is foods to avoid. These foods are not brain food and do not nourish our brains, but rather do serious damage. They include:

  • caffeine
  • processed and refined foods
  • sugars and sweets which encourage diabetes, tiredness and cognitive impairment
  • artificially colored and flavored foods and drinks
  • fast food and junk food
  • do not smoke

I hope this list of brain food helps. The quest of reaching old age without dementia or Alzheimers disease is a real one. We should protect our brains to the best of our abilities.

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"If you look at the anatomy, the structure, the function, there's nothing in the universe that's more beautiful, that's more complex, than the human brain!" - Keith Black

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