How Your Diet Affects Your Brain (#3 – Who Knew?!)

How Your Diet Affects Your Brain

Even when you are sleeping, your brain is still working. It keeps working without you ever having to think about it to remove waste and toxins, remove and replace hormones, keeps your lungs breathing and your heart pumping, without you even being aware of it. And when you’re awake, all of that is still going on, including activity in your brain.

It makes sense that your brain needs lots of fuel to do all the work. And to make it work effectively yet safely, you need a healthy diet!

If you think of your brain like a car, you might want to think about putting some premium “gas” in it to get the best performance out of it, right?

This is why a healthy diet is so important. Yes, every part of your body can benefit from wholesome foods, but imagine what would happen if your brain quit working? Nothing in your body can work if your brain is stuck in a fog.

Problems in the brain

Why do some people experience problems with their brain?

According to Professor John K. Wilkes of the University of Maryland:

“Our brain is made up of millions of cells; they are all wired together. These cell connections form a kind of interconnected brain with a network consisting of hundreds of millions of neurons each connecting to many other neurons. These synapses are the only structure necessary for our brain to function. They are the wiring on a telephone: They are the connecting links between thousands of cells that are called synapses.”

To maintain this network, the brain needs a healthy balance of chemicals.

When you have a chemical imbalance, it leads to brain fog and your brain cannot function. If your brain is under an imbalance of chemicals, your nervous system, your sense of hearing, your sense of taste, your sense of vision and even your ability to walk are all impaired.

How Your Diet Affects Your Brain

Let’s now take a look at how your diet may affect your brain and what to eat in order to give your brain enough power to function properly.

#1: Your Diet Affects How You Feel

Most people aren’t aware of it, but your diet helps to guide your emotions. One neurotransmitter, serotonin, regulates appetite, sleep patterns, even your mood.

In one of the highest-profile studies of serotonin levels, a team of researchers at the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia found that vegetarians lost more serotonin than carnivores — and they lost it faster than non-vegetarians. The researchers were intrigued.

Since at least 95 percent of this neurotransmitter is produced in your digestive system, doesn’t it make sense that what you are putting into your stomach will make a difference?

#2: Probiotics and Your Brain

Studies have found that probiotics help the brain regulate your mood. One little known fact about probiotics is that they feed on fiber.

Fiber is the part of carbohydrates that is necessary for a healthy brain. Some of the most common carbohydrates included in the daily diet, such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, have fiber.

By eating a healthy, natural diet that contains a great deal of natural fiber from fruits and vegetables, you are helping probiotics eat better, so your brain will get more of those “happy” neurotransmitters. Try to consume at least 5 servings a day of fresh fruits and vegetables.

#3: Fat is Vital for the Brain

In a world that has been telling us for the past 50 years to eat low fat, more and more studies show that the opposite is true. Yes, it’s always a good idea to burn excess body fat; however, your brain works best with healthy fats and essential fatty acids, such as Omega-3’s. Omegas 3’s, in particular, are super fats for super brainpower!

Avoid trans fats or anything that contains partially hydrogenated oils and focus on healthy sources of fat, such as nuts, oily fish, cheese, eggs, sunflower oil, and avocados. Also consider avoiding trans fatty acids in margarine, sauces, and dressings, and avoiding artificial sweeteners in anything containing fat or sugar.

#4: Whole Grains are Good Fuel for the Brain

While gluten is getting knocked by woo sites, there is real scientific evidence that shows that complex carbs, such as oats, wild rice, beans, and whole wheat bread, help provide a steady source of fuel for the brain.

It seems the more complex carbs, the better and less likely you’ll fall victim to any dreaded gluten withdrawal, which can include mood swings, headaches, fatigue, joint pain, constipation, diarrhea, joint swelling, and nausea.

Simple carbs, on the other hand, such as donuts, spike blood sugar levels and even become addictive to the brain, which is why it is so difficult to stop after just one donut! This leads to a lot more hunger pangs and weight gain, while also adding more stress to the body.

#5: Choose Leafy Greens, too!

Although this technically falls under the “fresh produce” section, we wanted to give a special mention to these nutritional powerhouses. Leafy greens, such as spinach, romaine lettuce, and broccoli, are all high in something called folic acid.

When you eat them in moderation, they provide important B-vitamins to your body. U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that about 1,000 doses of the folic acid per month — an amount the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says should be consumed by people ages 16 to 40 — help reduce the risk of getting pregnant and giving birth to a baby with neural tube defects. (Source)

While folic acid is also an essential vitamin that is found in fruits and vegetables, the amount that is present in leafy greens can provide even greater amounts, and this is one reason why leafy greens such as spinach and broccoli are so important, says Susan Cattaneo, a professor in the University of California, Berkeley School of Environmental Medicine.

Numerous studies have shown that people who have low levels of this vitamin tend to suffer from fatigue, sleep problems, and higher rates of depression. Maybe Popeye was on to something with his constant consumption of spinach?

What are the Top Brain Killer Foods?

While there aren’t specific foods that can instantly “kill” the brain, there are certain dietary choices that may have negative effects on brain health and cognitive function over time. Here are some top brain-damaging foods to be cautious of:

  1. Trans Fats: Found in partially hydrogenated oils and many processed foods, trans fats are known to increase LDL cholesterol levels and contribute to inflammation, which can negatively impact brain health. Avoid fried foods, baked goods, and processed snacks containing trans fats.
  2. Sugary Foods and Beverages: Consuming too much sugar can lead to spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, which can impair cognitive function and contribute to inflammation in the brain. Limit your intake of sugary snacks, sodas, and desserts.
  3. Highly Processed Foods: Many processed foods are high in refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, and additives, which can negatively affect brain health. These foods often lack essential nutrients and may contribute to inflammation and oxidative stress. Choose whole, minimally processed foods whenever possible.
  4. Artificial Sweeteners: While marketed as low-calorie alternatives to sugar, artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose may have negative effects on brain health. Some studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may disrupt the gut microbiota and lead to changes in appetite regulation and cognitive function.
  5. Highly Salted Foods: Consuming excessive amounts of salt can lead to high blood pressure and increase the risk of stroke and cognitive decline. Limit your intake of processed foods, canned soups, and salty snacks, and opt for low-sodium alternatives when possible.
  6. Alcohol: While moderate alcohol consumption may have some health benefits, excessive drinking can have detrimental effects on brain health. Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to cognitive impairment, memory loss, and an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.
  7. Processed Meats: Processed meats like bacon, sausage, and deli meats often contain high levels of sodium, saturated fats, and additives like nitrites, which may contribute to inflammation and impair brain function. Limit your intake of processed meats and choose leaner protein sources instead.
  8. High-Mercury Fish: Certain types of fish, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, may contain high levels of mercury, which can be harmful to the brain, particularly in pregnant women and young children. Choose low-mercury fish like salmon, trout, and sardines for their brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids instead.

By minimizing your intake of these brain-damaging foods and focusing on a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, you can support brain health and cognitive function throughout life. Additionally, staying physically active, getting enough sleep, managing stress, and staying socially engaged are also important factors for maintaining a healthy brain.

Does Diet Affect Brain Size?

Yes, diet can indeed affect brain size, structure, and function. The brain requires a steady supply of nutrients to support its growth, development, and ongoing function. Certain dietary patterns and specific nutrients have been linked to changes in brain structure and cognitive performance. Here’s how diet can impact brain size:

  1. Nutrient Intake: Consuming a diet rich in essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids can support brain health and potentially contribute to optimal brain size. These nutrients play crucial roles in neurodevelopment, neuronal function, and neuroprotection.
  2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are important for brain health and development. DHA is a major component of brain cell membranes and plays a role in neurotransmission and synaptic function. Consuming adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, may support brain growth and function.
  3. Antioxidants: Antioxidants help protect the brain from oxidative stress and inflammation, which can damage brain cells and impair cognitive function. Foods rich in antioxidants, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, may help preserve brain health and potentially support optimal brain size.
  4. B-Vitamins: B-vitamins, including folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12, play important roles in brain metabolism and the synthesis of neurotransmitters. Adequate intake of B-vitamins, found in foods like leafy greens, legumes, fortified cereals, poultry, fish, and dairy products, may support healthy brain development and function.
  5. Protein: Protein is essential for the synthesis of neurotransmitters and the maintenance of brain structure. Including adequate protein sources such as lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and tofu in the diet can support brain health and potentially contribute to optimal brain size.
  6. Whole Grains: Whole grains provide complex carbohydrates that serve as the brain’s primary source of energy. Consuming whole grains like oats, brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread may support sustained energy levels and cognitive function.
  7. Hydration: Staying hydrated is important for optimal brain function. Dehydration can impair cognitive performance and concentration. Drinking an adequate amount of water throughout the day can support brain health and function.

On the other hand, diets high in processed foods, saturated fats, added sugars, and excess sodium may have negative effects on brain health and function. These dietary patterns have been associated with increased inflammation, oxidative stress, and impaired cognitive performance over time.

Adopting a balanced diet rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods is important for supporting optimal brain health and potentially influencing brain size and structure.

How Much Does Diet Affect IQ?

Diet can have a significant impact on IQ, although the extent of this influence can vary among individuals. Research suggests that certain dietary patterns and nutrients can affect cognitive function, including memory, attention, and problem-solving abilities, which are components of IQ.

A balanced diet rich in nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals is associated with better cognitive performance and may contribute to higher IQ scores. Conversely, diets high in processed foods, saturated fats, added sugars, and excess sodium have been linked to poorer cognitive function and lower IQ scores over time.

Early childhood nutrition, in particular, plays a critical role in brain development and may have long-lasting effects on IQ. Adequate intake of nutrients during critical periods of brain growth and development can support cognitive function and potentially influence IQ levels later in life.

While diet is an important factor, it’s essential to recognize that IQ is influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and socioeconomic factors. Therefore, while a healthy diet can contribute to cognitive health and may have a positive impact on IQ, it is just one piece of the puzzle. Other factors such as education, access to resources, and environmental stimulation also play significant roles in cognitive development and intelligence.


You may not be surprised to know that good nutrition is key to having a healthy brain. Nutrition affects more than just your physical appearance, though. Eating a balanced diet (high in nutrients) gives you the right fuel to run your brain well. It helps maintain a healthy body and protects you from chronic illnesses.

Because your brain is an extremely sensitive organ, it’s very easy to tell whether or not you’re consuming enough nutrition. When it’s on an adequate level, you feel smarter, happier, and more capable in life.