Your brain is around 2% of your body weight. Yet, it consumes about 20% of your energy intake.

Since your brain is already taking up a huge chunk of your meals and snacks, you might as well make sure your diet caters to its needs. But what does the brain need? Is there really a “brain food” that can boost mood and cognitive performance?

Today, we'll check out a science-backed list of brain foods. We'll also go over preparation tips and general intake recommendations.

The Truth Behind Brain Foods

Before we dig into the best foods for overcoming mental blocks, we need to answer one burning question: can eating so-called “brain foods” sharpen your mind?

The answer is yes, to an extent.

See, genetics aren't necessarily destiny when it comes to brain performance. A lot of Alzheimer's cases, for example, involve lifestyle factors. In fact, some sources estimate that less than 1% of the population gets Alzheimer's from a gene mutation!

The same could apply to cognitive functions in general. So, it's safe to assume that what you eat plays a vital role in how well your brain runs.

But what can you eat to work on the nutrition side of the equation? Well, that's the thing: there is no single food that can transform your brain. However, certain nutrients and dietary patterns impact cognitive abilities.

For one, science tells us that antioxidant-rich foods can protect brain cells from unstable compounds that damage their structure. Meanwhile, omega-3 fatty acids (a family of polyunsaturated fats) aid brain development and function.

Vitamins B12 and B2 are also crucial, and their deficiencies can lead to memory loss and other cognitive issues, from confusion to attention issues.

Now, you might think it's easier to take these brain-boosting compounds as supplements. But many people don't actually need supplements—a balanced diet will do.

10 Foods and Drinks for a Healthy Brain

With the basics covered, we can now check out some star ingredients to use as a part of your cognitive development technique.

Top view of the best foods to boost your brain and memory

1. Fatty Fish

Not all fats are bad.

Remember the family of polyunsaturated fats? Salmon, herring, sprats, mackerel, and sardine contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids that encourage learning, memory, and general cognitive well-being.

There's also the fact you'll likely cut back on meat by eating more oily fish—that's a double win in my book!

Intake: Aim for two servings per week.

Tips for incorporating fatty fish into your diet:

  • Try new recipes like wraps, fish tacos, or seafood pasta.
  • Don't consume fatty fish from polluted waters—many toxins accumulate in the fat.

2. Citrus Fruit

Oranges, lemons, and all these zesty fruits are popular picks for boosting immunity. But did you know their vitamin C content also helps the production of neurotransmitters?

One study even linked higher vitamin C levels with tasks involving memory recall and attention.

Intake: You need 75–90 mg of vitamin C daily. To put things into perspective, one orange could do the trick!

Tips for incorporating citrus fruits into your diet:

  • Go for whole, fresh fruits instead of juices. The extra fiber isn't just good for bowel movements. It can also reduce the risk of dementia!
  • Add a few citrus slices to your breakfast.

3. Nuts

Research shows that eating nuts regularly can help us stay sharp as we age. Plus, the energy boost from a handful of nuts is good for tackling demanding tasks without losing steam!

You have a lot of options here, but if I were to recommend one pick, it'd be walnuts.

Intake: Experts recommend 4–6 servings of mixed unsalted nuts weekly.

Tips for incorporating nuts into your diet:

  • Sprinkle nuts onto cereals, salads, or stir-fry dishes.
  • Pack a small bag of mixed nuts to munch on at work.
  • Practice portion control since nuts are also calorie-dense!

4. Dark Chocolate

I know dark chocolate can be bitter compared to milk chocolate, but they are also particularly rich in flavonoids. These active compounds can boost blood flow, making learning easier.

But that's not all. Research also links dark chocolate to improved mood thanks to its prebiotic effects.

Intake:1–2 ounces are good enough for one serving.

Tips for incorporating dark chocolate cubes/bars into your diet:

  • Pair the chocolate with nuts or dried fruit to tone down the bitterness.
  • Gradually step up the cacao percentage if the chocolate is still too intense.

5. Berries

Berries are rich sources of antioxidants and flavonoids.

One study showed that blueberry-rich diets can improve learning and muscle function. Granted, this study was done on aging rats, but the results were promising—the rats were nearly as agile as their young counterparts!

Plus, it's not just animal studies that prove berries are brain food. Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) suggest daily berry consumption among women may delay memory decline by a couple of years.

Intake: The BWH study focused on those who consumed at least two servings of strawberries and blueberries weekly.

Tips for incorporating berries into your diet:

  • Toss berries into leafy salads with nuts and lean protein.
  • Swap buttery popcorn for yogurt-doused berries.
  • Blend your favorite berries into smoothies. I'd say they make a perfect drink after a long walk or your favorite mindfulness exercise!

6. Eggs

I know eggs get a bit of a bad rap, but they contain vitamins and choline. Now, choline works on mood, memory performance, and more since it goes into the production of acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter that works in our brains).

Eggs are such an excellent source of choline that two eggs would cover 54% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of choline. Not everyone can eat two eggs daily, though.

Intake: The ideal intake depends on your cholesterol levels. Sometimes, a single egg is more than enough, so double-check with your physician.

Tips for incorporating eggs into your diet:

  • Choline concentrates in the yolk, so don't ditch it!
  • Avoid overcooking the eggs since it reduces the vitamin content.

7. Coffee

Coffee offers both immediate and long-term perks. In the short term, it promotes alertness by blocking sleep-inducing chemicals and increasing feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine.

Long-term consumption, on the other hand, may reduce the likelihood of cognitive decline.

However, many people are sensitive to caffeine, and they'll want to avoid it too close to bedtime.

Menopausal women will also want to drink coffee with caution. While it does have a decent effect on combating brain fog, it could exacerbate the symptoms of menopause in some cases.

Intake: Up to 400mg of caffeine throughout the day.

Tips for incorporating coffee into your diet:

  • Stay hydrated since coffee has diuretic effects.
  • Complement your coffee with dashes of cinnamon for an extra flavor kick.

8. Leafy Greens

Leafy greens at a farmer's market stall

Adding leafy greens like spinach and kale into a healthy diet can help your brain in more than one way.

After all, they contain nutrients like vitamin K and beta-carotene, both of which can fight cognitive decline.

Intake: Aim for 2–3 cups of leafy greens daily. Just keep in mind that they aren't dense, so a couple of cups of raw greens could end up making a one-cup serving.

Tips for incorporating leafy greens into your diet:

  • Turn them into green juices.
  • Sneak them onto pizzas as toppings.

9. Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds have a decent dose of zinc, magnesium, copper, and iron. Zinc and magnesium, in particular, are directly linked to cognitive function.

Intake: A quarter cup daily will do.

Tips for incorporating seeds in general into your diet:

  • Work them into pesto sauces.
  • Include seed flour in baked goods.

10. Beets

Beets are unexpectedly good brain foods thanks to their nitrate content. For reference, nitrate can boost blood flow, improving overall cognitive function.

Intake: Beets are oxalate-rich, so it could be better to stick to a half-cup serving.

Tips for incorporating beets into your diet:

  • Blend small amounts into smoothies.
  • Don't be alarmed by temporary urine or stool discoloration.

Final Words

Salmon, oranges, nuts, dark chocolate cubes, blueberries, and leafy greens are all good for brain health. What you want to avoid, though, are refined carbs, sugar-sweetened beverages, and overly processed foods.

But even then, it's not just about what you eat. That's just one step towards self-improvement, and it doesn't eliminate the need for more lifestyle and spiritual changes!

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After working with people from all walks of life and all abilities, we can say with certainty that there comes a time in everyone's life when the decisions we make impact other people.  That means that …

  • It can be confusing know which decision to make
  • We can be fearful that we'll make the wrong decisions
  • Sometimes the right decision for us is the wrong decision for people we love
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Katrina Streatfeild

I'm Katrina Streatfeild, Clinical Psychologist, mother, businesswoman and leader.

Decision making can be really tough, especially when your ability to think through issues and impacts is clouded or limited by past experiences in your life.

I bring almost 25 years of experience across the spectrum of child and adult assessment and intervention for trauma and mental health disorders, child & family work and supervision of psychology trainees and registrars.   

I'm interested in anxiety, adjustment, stress & burnout, trauma,  PTSD, Complex PTSD, child and parent work, women's mental health, complex Mental Health Disorders, EMDR and supervision and mentoring of provisional and registrar (Clinical and Counselling) Psychologists.

 I completed my Masters of Psychology at Monash University and  I'm currently completing my PhD (ADF Veteran Parenting in the context of PTSD, CPTSD and Moral Injury)  at the University of Newcastle.

Trudy Rankin - a middle-aged woman in a red jacket

I'm Trudy Rankin, CEO of West Island Digital and the creator of Online Business Lift-off, digital strategist, wife, mother. 

Over the years I've helped many people make hard decisions.  Mostly by listening and asking tough questions. 

But also by refining and improving a technique I learned years ago. 

This technique uses a step-by-step process to really help you dig into what this hard decision means … to you and those you care about … and then takes the emotion (and fear) out of that decision making process, so you can concentrate on what matters.

My main focus is on business.  I love helping people use frameworks, segmentation quizzes and diagnostic tools to lift their business to the next level … and make a bigger impact on customer outcomes.

I have a Master of Commerce Degree from University of Auckland and I'm a certified project Manager through PMI (Project Management Institute).