Eat Smarter: Nutrition for Your Brain

From mood swings to mental clarity, a nutrient a day goes a long way.

The food we consume fills more than just our bellies. What we eat is vital to our mental function, cognitive processes, mood swings, emotions, memory, and aging… Just to name a few. Without ingesting essential vitamins and minerals, we don’t get the nutrients we need—it’s as simple as that. No nutrients means no energy; no energy means no concentration; no focus means no brain power. Without brain power and we may as well be a plant instead of a human.

Simple Facts

You can only live healthy when your mind is on the health train too. A healthy mind stays in shape when you get enough sleep, enough exercise (can we say yogaanyone?), and when you eat the right foods. Eating the right foods doesn’t mean you should deny yourself things that taste good—there are plenty of ways to eat food that’s tasty for your mouth and your mind. Here’s a guide to get you started.

Omega-3 “Fatty Acids”

What: Oily fish, nuts, seeds, oils (Canola, Soybean and Flaxseed), dairy products, leafy greens, and grains (oatmeal, peanut butter, and cereal).

Benefits: improves learning and memory, lowers the risk of heart disease, and helps to fight against depression and mood disorders.

Fun Fact: Marine sourced Omega-3s are one of the most studied nutrients in the world.

Herbs & Essential Oils

What: Sage, periwinkle, ginseng, rosemary, ginko biloba, peppermint, basil, brahmi, cinnamon, allspice, and clove.

Benefits: Improves mental clarity and brain functions, mood swings, emotions, memory and reduces stress.

Fun fact: Ancient Greeks and Romans thought basil would only grow if you screamed wild curses and shouted while sowing the seeds.

Zinc, “The Mighty Mineral”

What: Pumpkin and squash seeds, oysters, nuts, crab, lobster, meat and poultry.

Benefits: Packed with antioxidants to help eliminate toxins in the brain so they don’t build up and cause damage, improves sleep, cognition, and sleep, elevates mood and boosts immune system.

Fun fact: Zinc helps maintain your sense of smell.

Antioxidants, “Berry, Berry Good”

What: Blueberries, green tea, acai berries, gogi berries, pomegranates, dark leafy greens, cranberries, blackberries, beans, artichokes, nuts, sweet potatoes, lentils and whole grains.

Benefits: Enhances neural function slowing aging and maintaining cognitive function, boosts immunity, breaks down/neutralizes free radicals, and make you feel fresh and awesome.

Fun fact: You should be eating antioxidant rich foods at every meal. All digestion produces free radicals that should be countered by antioxidants.

Complex Carbohydrates, “Energy Source”

What: Whole grains (oats, buckwheat, barley, quinoa, and brown rice), tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, onions, broccoli, spinach, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

Benefits: Carbohydrates are broken down into energy. Complex carbohydrates (3+ sugars and full of fiber) take longer to break down into simple sugars than refined carbohydrates (1–2 sugars), thus supplying the brain with sustainable energy. Full of vitamin B, they keep dopamine and serotonin (happy chemicals) flowing, energy levels high, and optimize your metabolism.

Fun fact: Your brain cells need two times more energy than the other cells in your body and the brain uses 20% of the body’s carbohydrate supply.

Calcium: “Bone Builder”

What: Dairy products (milk, cheese, and yogurt), leafy greens, soybeans, okra, and orange juice.

Benefits: This magic mineral keeps our teeth and bones healthy, helps our muscles contract and expand, helps maintain healthy blood clotting, and manages nerve impulses.

Fun fact: 99 percent of the calcium in our bodies are held in our teeth and bones.

Leafy Greens

What: Broccoli, kale, spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, parsley, asparagus, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts.

Benefits: packed with vitamins A, C, E and K (the “forgotten vitamin”) leafy greens contain powerful antioxidants and nutrients that strengthen the immune system, prevent cancer, improve blood circulation, and assist in functions of internal organs.

Fun Fact: Oranges may are full of vitamin C, but gram for gram, kale actually has more!

Now that you know where to begin, note that it’s not a one-time investment. Eating right can help to grown your brain and your body—which makes you stronger and smarter. And that’s just good practice.


Zuzu Perkal is an artist, photographer, yoga instructor, blogger, and pizza lover. Born in San Diego and currently living in Austin, Texas, she lives for creativity and connection. In 2010, after studying Creative Advertising at the University of Texas from one of the nation’s top rated portfolio schools she chose the path of travel, exploration, art, and inspiration; wild and free. Fall down the rabbit hole… and @zuzubee.