How Does What We Eat Affect the Brain?

The food and drinks we consume can affect all the organs in our bodies, including the brain. For example, we all know that alcohol and caffeine have a profound effect on the brain. But which foods can we eat that are actually good for the brain?

First, we have to consider what the brain is made of. It’s estimated that about 60% of our brains consist of fats that are mixed with protein, amino acids, glucose, and micronutrients. That should be an indicator of the types of food groups we should be focusing on.

Of course, not all fats are the same. While there are fats that are good for the brain, there are also some that have a negative effect on it, says Johnny K – the owner of True Life Recovery detox program in Orange County, California. Processed sugar and trans-fats have a less than favorable influence on the brain because they keep you stimulated when your brain should be resting. Additionally, there are studies that suggest that trans-fats may have a negative effect on memory.

Also, some types of food can trigger inflammatory responses from our bodies, and the brain doesn’t like that. In some cases, inflammation can affect our brains, and even cause mood disorders including depression.

Foods That Boost Cognitive Health

Here are four of the best foods to enhance brain function and cognitive health:


Fatty fish consistently tops lists of brain-boosting foods. This is because fatty fish, like salmon, trout, and sardines, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. According to Healthline, “About 60% of your brain is made of fat, and half of that fat is the omega-3 kind. Your brain uses omega-3s to build brain and nerve cells, and these fats are essential for learning and memory. Omega 3-s also have a couple of additional benefits for your brain. For one thing, they may slow age-related mental decline and help ward off Alzheimer’s disease. On the flip side, not getting enough omega-3s is linked to learning impairments, as well as depression.”


Dark chocolate is a rich source of fiber, iron, magnesium, and flavanols. According to Jennifer Cohen in a 2015 Forbes article entitled 12 Best Foods to Boost Brain Power, “the flavanols in dark chocolate improve blood vessel function, which improves blood flow to the brain and in doing so improves cognitive function and memory. It also contains stimulant substances like caffeine and theobromine, which can improve brain function in the short term.” Additionally, dark chocolate is a great source of antioxidants.


Having memory problems? Blueberries have shown to be a great way to help with memory. According to nutritionist Jo Lewin in a BBC article, 10 Foods to Boost Your Brainpower, “Evidence accumulated at Tufts University in the United States suggests that the consumption of blueberries may be effective in improving or delaying short-term memory loss. They’re widely available, but you can also look out for dark red and purple fruits and veg which contain the same protective compounds called anthocyanins.” Anthocyanins are phytochemicals that are rich in antioxidants and can help improve brain health and fight against the disease.  


Whole grains provide energy for the brain. According to BBC Good Food, “Like everything else in your body, the brain cannot work without energy. The ability to concentrate and focus comes from an adequate, steady supply of energy – in the form of glucose in our blood to the brain. Achieve this by choosing wholegrain with a low-GI, which releases glucose slowly into the bloodstream, keeping you mentally alert throughout the day. Opt for ‘brown’ wholegrain cereals, granary bread, rice, and pasta.”

Don’t Forget Exercise to Keep Our Brain Sharp

Along with a diet that is healthy and positive for the brain, we should also make sure that we are exercising our bodies. It’s been shown that everything from cardio workouts to high-intensity interval training help increases memory and protects the health of our brains in the long run. In fact, research shows that a regular schedule of exercise, even when it starts later in life, can cut our risk of developing dementia by half.

Exercise and a healthy diet help our brains stay alert and active, improves our cognitive functioning, helps us with processing information effectively, and slows the mental aging process.

Find the Right Balance for Food and Recovery

Without eating the right foods, the body and the brain will suffer. However, when we eat a balanced diet and take some exercise, it can be a huge boost to addiction recovery. As our bodies heal in recovery, it does so from the inside out, we will begin to feel a positive difference. A healthy diet of foods that improve brain functioning can help:

  • Increase energy
  • Improve mood
  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Improve memory
  • Reduce the risk of disease

With so many benefits, you can see that making diet and nutrition a priority in recovery isn’t just about meeting goals but finding a healthy balance of our minds, bodies, and spirit.