Healthy Habits

Brain Food

Content provided by the Health & Wellness Team at GBS Benefits

Did you know while the brain represents a small percentage of a person’s total body mass (about 2%), it uses 20% or more of our metabolic energy? And during key developmental stages, that amount is upward of 50%! The brain can use two types of fuel – glucose and ketone bodies. Glucose is the primary energy source for standard diets, and ketone bodies are used when glucose is not available as seen with a very low carbohydrate diet.

Because the brain cannot store glucose for later use, it relies on glucose from the blood which is kept at optimal levels by consuming carbohydrate-rich foods. Think about times when you are low on energy – many of us notice signs like brain fog, irritability, unclear thinking or decision-making skills, or a headache. There’s a reason we may crave simple sugars when in a low-energy state – our brains need this to maintain proper functioning.

Consuming a wide variety of foods is the best and simplest way to ensure you are getting the nutrients your body and brain needs to thrive. Here are a few key foods and nutrients that support brain health:

Fruits & Veggies

Our brains get a double benefit from fruits and veggies as they contribute to our carbohydrate needs and provide key B-vitamins. Several B-vitamins play a role in synthesizing neurotransmitters in our brain that can positively impact mood. Neurotransmitters are the messengers in our brain that allow for communication between different nerve endings. Serotonin (the major calming neurotransmitter) and dopamine (the neurotransmitter involved with the pleasure centers in the brain) can only function adequately when proper levels of B-vitamins are present.


This is one of the essential amino acids, meaning it must be provided from food as the body cannot make it on its own. Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin and can be found in milk, turkey, chicken, tuna, oats, nuts, and seeds. Serotonin plays a major role in regulating mood, treating depression, and boosting memory. Most serotonin is produced in the gut, but regular consumption of tryptophan helps keep serotonin stores at an optimal level.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids contribute several benefits for brain health, including improved blood flow in the brain, enhanced memory and learning, supporting growth and development, and working against cognitive decline. Omega-3 fatty acids include ALA, DHA, and EPA. The best dietary source is from fatty fish including salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring.

If consuming at least two servings of oily fish per week is unlikely due to food availability or preference, supplementing may be beneficial. When selecting a supplement, look for 1) third-party verification like NSF Certified for Sport, Informed Choice, or Consumer Lab, 2) choose a supplement rich with DHA and EPA, and 3) consult with your provider prior to supplementing.

Herbs and Spices

  • Saffron is a spice that is often used in paella. It has been shown to possibly diminish PMS symptoms and depression. It is the most expensive spice per ounce in the world; however, a little goes a long way in terms of color and flavor.
  • Peppermint may enhance alertness and calm nerves. This explains the advice to have a peppermint before a stressful event!

While this list isn’t exhaustive, choose at least one of these nutrients to add to your diet this month. And remember, the most important nutrition advice for brain health is to eat consistent meals and snacks and enjoy a variety of foods.

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