Brain Food

Brain Food

By Gabriele Fantelli

The brain is a very energy-consuming organ, demanding around 20% of the total blood supply of the human body and requiring twice the energy of other organs to function properly. These energy levels must be kept at a constant high in order not to experience brain fatigue. If your brain is not getting the energy or vital nutrients it needs you may experience: 

  • lack of concentration
  • decreased motivation,
  • drowsiness,
  • irritability
  • it can also exacerbate mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Moderation and regularity

As we at Mental Healthy have often discussed, the food we eat will have an impact on our mental health. The keys to using food for good mental health, are moderation and regularity. Eating the right food for the brain may not be enough, in fact, if we eat a lot of good food sporadically the ups and downs of nutrient boosts are as counteracting as eating the 'wrong' foods.

It may sound like a big commitment, but really it is about getting into a lifestyle that has us eating the right foods at the right time, every day. You can still have sweet or fatty things but just a small part of your diet, that should be full of nutrient rich, low GI foods; the results are definitely worth it.

Making eating a part of a healthy lifestyle

It’s important to have breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time every day, it should be in a calm and relaxed atmosphere and it should take time. If you are at work, try to find a nice place where you can be on your own or, if you enjoy lunch break with your colleagues, have it in the staff room. Wherever and with whomever, it should be an enjoyable part of our day, it’s supposed to be a break and not another chore to get out of the way quickly! Rushing and scoffing meals (especially those laden with salt and sugar) can lead to quick highs and lows as your system deals with overload.

Keeping energy and blood sugar constant

Having set up breakfast, lunch and dinner times, we should keep our energy and sugar levels constant with a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon snack. This doesn’t necessarily have to be food, all we need is a top up, so it could just be a drink like a smoothy, but remember these are high in natural sugars, so go for one that includes yoghurt, wheat or fruity 'bits'.


Crucial to our well-being and indeed survival, is water. 60% of the human body is made of water and around 75% of the human brain is made of water. We should drink at least a couple of litres of water a day, every day. While other beverages are OK as treats, water should be your regular drink. The brain cannot store water, but when we keep hydrated we think and act quicker and better.


Vitamins and minerals are essentials to our well-being. There are some nutrients that our body can produce/reproduce, but some of the most important for the well-being of our brain cannot, and we must get these from our diet. For example, the essential fatty acids Omega 3 and 6, oily fish is a good source of this. The essential amino acid Tryptophan, is another example, we can get this from nuts, cheese and white meat.

Eat fresh and natural

As a general rule we should keep food ingredients at their most natural state, for example unrefined sugar instead of white sugar, wholemeal flour instead of white flour, brown rice instead of white rice, see our feature on carbohydrates for more about this. Processing methods generally strip ingredients of much of their nutrients and can cause blood sugar level imbalances, by giving us a quick fix instead of a slow and steady release of energy.

We should also try and eat raw vegetables as much as possible for example in salads, as some of their nutrients are lost with cooking.


So, to summarise, you should ideally eat foods that will provide your brain with the best sustained energy and nutrition. Eating good, 'whole' foods, routinely, regularly, and slowly will help you achieve the best brain health from nutrition. There is no substitute for professional care if you are experiencing mental ill health, but ensuring your lifestyle is conducive to recovery, can be a big step you can take yourself to make the road a little easier.


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