Online Nutritionist Discusses the Link Between Diet and Brain Function

As the school year kicks into gear, mornings become a hectic rush for parents, frantically getting their kids ready and out the door with heavy backpacks and sleepy eyes only to rush out to be productive at work. Amidst the chaos, it’s easy to overlook what we actually put on our plates. And taking time to nourish ourselves is just as important as school and work. As working parents and dietitian nutritionists, we understand the time crunch.

Take a moment to visualize your brain by placing your fists together, with the inside of your wrists touching. That compact shape and size represent your brain. Within this remarkable organ, neurons communicate through neurotransmitters (NTs), which form the foundation of learning. This intricate web of “grey matter,” buzzing with electric currents and constant communication, fuels us throughout the day. What we consume directly impacts its functionality. Hence, it’s crucial to prioritize brain-boosting meals and snacks for the whole family.

To jumpstart our brains, we require a combination of fats, proteins, carbohydrates, liquids, and an array of vital nutrients.

Fat: With approximately 60% of its composition being fat, it’s no surprise that our brains heavily rely on this nutrient for optimal functioning. Despite its relatively small size, the brain consumes around 20% of the body’s metabolic energy. In short, brains crave fat. However, not all fats are created equal.

  • Polyunsaturated fats contain essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6, which are crucial elements our bodies cannot produce on their own. These fats play a vital role in maintaining the flexibility of brain cell membranes, enabling effective communication and information processing.
  • One specific omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, has been scientifically proven to enhance brain function, including memory, language skills, and motor abilities.
  • Contrary to common misconceptions, saturated fats and cholesterol are essential for proper brain cell function. Our bodies synthesize saturated fats and utilize cholesterol as an antioxidant. Cholesterol also serves as a building block for vitamin D synthesis and acts as a precursor for sex hormones. Remarkably, approximately 25% of the body’s total cholesterol is concentrated in the brain.


Feed your brain and include healthy fats in your diet: nuts and seeds (like sunflower and pumpkin seeds), avocados, fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, and sardines), olive oil, whole eggs (remember, don’t discard the yolk!), coconut oil, and soy.


Protein: The marvel of the human body never ceases to amaze us. At its core, protein plays a crucial role by providing us with amino acids, which in turn give us neurotransmitters (NTs). These NTs serve as the fundamental building blocks for learning and cognitive function. Amino acids are involved in nearly all biological processes and play a significant role in sparking brain connections.

  • Let’s power up with protein-packed foods: Raw almonds are a fantastic choice as they provide both good fats and protein. Be mindful not to overcook or toast nuts and almonds, as it strips away the natural oils that our bodies thrive on. Eggs, fatty fish, poultry, lean meats like lamb and pork, nourishing bone broth, tofu, and soy, and a variety of beans and legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, and black beans all boast protein content. Don’t forget about yogurt and cheese, which are also excellent sources of protein.


By incorporating these protein-power foods into our diet, we can fuel our bodies with the essential amino acids needed for optimal brain function and overall well-being.


Carbohydrates: Considered the fuel for our bodies and brains, carbohydrates play a vital role in sustaining our energy levels. Interestingly, our brain cells rely solely on glucose as their source of fuel. To ensure our brains receive this essential fuel, our bodies break down carbohydrates and transport glucose through our bloodstream. It’s worth noting that our brain cells are the energy powerhouses of our bodies, requiring twice as much energy as other cells.

  • To keep our minds well-fueled and avoid the rollercoaster of blood sugar fluctuations, it’s advisable to embrace complex carbohydrates while avoiding simple sugars. Complex carbohydrates provide a steady release of glucose, helping us combat mid-morning fogginess. Additionally, when we skip carbohydrates altogether, our brain’s ability to regulate serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for mood stability, is compromised, potentially leading to crankiness.
  • Here are some of the best carbohydrate sources to include in our diet: whole grain breads and cereals, nutrient-rich options like barley and quinoa, a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-wheat pasta and brown rice, and the ever-nourishing yogurt.


By incorporating these quality carbohydrates into our meals, we can ensure a steady supply of glucose to support our brain’s energy needs and maintain a balanced mood throughout the day.


Power Players: Within the realm of nutrition, certain foods stand out as true powerhouses, hailed by registered dietitians for their remarkable components and benefits.

  • Blueberries and blackberries reign as superhero berries, packed with anthocyanin antioxidants that possess the incredible ability to cross blood-brain barriers. This quality enables them to shield brain cells from damage and elevate neurotransmitter levels, thus boosting cognitive function.
  • Leafy greens emerge as formidable contenders, primarily due to their abundant vitamin K content, known for their role in slowing down cognitive decline. Kale, spinach, and collard greens are experiencing a well-deserved resurgence, taking the spotlight for their exceptional nutrient profiles.
  • Nuts and seeds have been mentioned earlier, but their significance warrants a prominent place among the power players. Pumpkin seeds, in particular, boast zinc, which plays a crucial role in enhancing memory function. Raw almonds and walnuts take center stage for their positive cognitive impact on the brain, making them invaluable additions to the power players list.


Food for Thought: The connection between what we eat and how we think is undeniable. Our thoughts shape our actions and ultimately define our lives. With this in mind, shouldn’t we prioritize nourishing our brains with the right fuel? By incorporating these exceptional foods into our diet, we harness the potential of their unique properties, empowering our brain health and overall well-being. Instead of focusing on what we “shouldn’t eat”, focus on the rich variety of great foods.


Here are three favorite recipes that include all those essential nutrients to feed our brains (and they’re delicious) and help us reach our weight loss and wellness goals. Brain food never tasted so great!


Chickpea and Vegetable Stir-Fry Ingredients (vegetarian)


  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce (or tamari for a gluten-free option)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Optional toppings: sesame seeds, chopped green onions



  1. Heat sesame oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat.
  2. Add the minced garlic and sauté for about 1 minute until fragrant.
  3. Add the sliced bell pepper, zucchini, carrot, leafy greens, and broccoli florets to the skillet. Stir-fry for about 5-7 minutes until the vegetables are tender-crisp.
  4. Stir in the drained chickpeas, soy sauce, and ground ginger. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes to heat through.
  5. Remove from heat and sprinkle with optional sesame seeds and chopped green onions.
  6. Serve the delicious chickpea and vegetable stir-fry over a bed of cooked brown rice or quinoa for a satisfying vegetarian meal.



Spinach and Feta Omelet (for any time of day!)


  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup diced red onions
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional toppings: chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley or dill), avocado slices



  1. In a bowl, whisk the eggs until well beaten. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.
  3. Add the diced red onions and sauté for a few minutes until they become translucent.
  4. Add the chopped spinach to the skillet and cook until wilted, stirring occasionally.
  5. Pour the beaten eggs over the spinach and onions in the skillet, ensuring they cover the entire surface.
  6. Allow the eggs to cook for a couple of minutes until the edges start to set.
  7. Sprinkle the crumbled feta cheese and diced tomatoes evenly over one side of the omelet.
  8. Carefully fold the other half of the omelet over the filling, creating a half-moon shape.
  9. Cook for another minute or two until the eggs are fully cooked and the cheese has melted.
  10. Slide the omelet onto a plate and garnish with optional toppings like fresh herbs and avocado slices.
  11. Serve the delicious spinach and feta omelet as a satisfying breakfast or brunch option, providing a balance of healthy fats, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates.


Avocado and Quinoa Salad:



  • 1 ripe avocado, diced
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup diced cucumber
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste



  1. In a bowl, combine the diced avocado, cooked quinoa, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and cilantro.
  2. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  3. Drizzle the dressing over the avocado and quinoa mixture and gently toss to combine.
  4. Add a favorite lean protein (if desired), like cubed rotisserie chicken.
  5. Serve as a refreshing and nutritious salad option.