4 Essential Foods to Build a Better Brain

How to eat to boost your mood - and your mind.

Jan 26, 2016
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Brain food

Brain food (Shutterstock) 

Over the past decade, researchers have repeatedly found that a healthy diet is strongly correlated with lowered risk of mental health problems, particularly depression, dementia and attention deficit disorder. For example, a large study from the University of Navarra in Spain followed healthy university students for more than four years and reported a 42 percent decreased risk of major depression for those who most closely adhered to a Mediterranean diet (rich in seafood, leafy greens and whole grains).

Feed your brain

Your food contains the building blocks of brain cells. A brain cell creates electricity and reaches out to connect and communicate with thousands of other cells. Because these cells are the most specialized ones in your body, your brain demands more energy and nutrients than any of your other organs—20 percent of everything you eat!

It might sound a bit sensational to say that food can give you a bigger brain, but that is exactly what Australian researchers have found. The area of the brain called the hippocampus, which is involved in learning, memory and emotions was significantly smaller in individuals who ate a “Western diet” (high in processed and fried foods and simple sugars). The study followed 255 individuals aged 60 to 64 over four years, and assessed the subjects with MRI brain scans.

Food is the best medicine

The best foods combine to make a little rhyme: seafood, greens, nuts and beans…and of course a little dark chocolate. These foods form the core of the recipes in Eat Complete: 21 Nutrients to Fuel Brain Power, Boost Weight Loss, and Transform Your Health. They contain a key set of nutrients that your brain needs to run optimally: B vitamins, long-chained (complex) omega-3 fats, minerals and phytonutrients (nutrients from plants).


Almonds and nuts show us the importance of “good fats” and healthy snacks. Almonds are the top source of vitamin E, low levels of which are highly correlated with depression—a concerning fact, since 96 percent of Americans don’t meet the recommended daily allowance.

Almonds are the perfect brain food

Go nuts! (Shutterstock)


Legumes offer plant-based sources of protein and add more fiber to our diet—two important ingredients for happiness. One cup of lentils contains 90 percent of your daily need of folate, a B vitamin used to make serotonin and dopamine, two key brain molecules involved in mood, focus and cognition.


Dark chocolate possesses some magic molecules. In a recent study from Columbia University, researchers reversed age-related memory decline using extracts of cacao.

Dark chocolate is a great brain food

Science gives dark chocolate a big thumbs up (Shutterstock)


Food researchers are beginning to understand that the bacteria in your gut dictate much about your physical and mental health. So get some fermented foods like yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut into your diet. Plus, swap out simple sugars and refined carbohydrates for complex carbs found in whole foods (an apple versus apple juice).

Eating for happiness means voting for brain health with each bite. These tips will help you get more of the brain-essential nutrients you need to feel your best.


Live Happy is a magazine, website, resource and movement about a timeless quest: Living a happy life. Live Happy's stories focus on overcoming real-life obstacles, conquering everyday fears and finding joy on an emotional, life-changing level.


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