Brain Food

Written by Kelsey Hirsch, Human Nutrition Dietetic Intern

Do you ever feel like what you eat influences your mind, memory, or mood? Believe it or not, the foods we consume can have an influence on our brain and its function. Foods that tend to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids (fish, nuts/seeds, avocados) and antioxidants (fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds) can help to protect our brains and contribute to our nutrient needs. Conversely, processed foods that are higher in fat, sugar tend to be associated with increased likelihood of depressive moods.

A study explored the impact of fruits and vegetables, alcohol, body weight, and smoking on mental wellbeing (“feeling good and functioning well”). Researchers found that an increase in fruit and vegetable intake had a positive outcome on mental wellbeing, compared to the other factors mentioned above. Smoking cessation also improved mental wellbeing (i.e. reduced depression, anxiety and stress; improved positive mood and quality of life).

Another study found that those who consumed more fruits and vegetables had more positive emotions and interactions and “reported feeling calmer, happier and more energetic than they normally do”; these feelings followed them to the next day. On the other hand, consumption of a western diet (fried, sugary, refined foods) was linked to a higher incidence of clinical depression and anxiety, mainly in adult women, compared to a diet high in fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and whole grains.

Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Seafood: salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring
  • Nuts/seeds: walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds
  • Plant oils: soybean oil, canola oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil
  • Fortified foods: certain eggs, yogurt, milk, soy beverages
  • Avocados

Foods that contain antioxidants

  • Fruit: berries, citrus, apples, pomegranates, etc.
  • Vegetables: sweet potatoes, carrots, peppers, kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
  • Nuts: walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts, etc.

For improved brain function and mood, consume a mix of fruits and vegetables, along with foods that have healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocado and seafood.

For additional tips and resources on food and mental health, check out the Emotional Fitness blog of R. Ryan Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist.