Nutrients for a Healthy Brain:
Everything You Need to Know

Your brain is a hungry organ that needs more than its share of nutrients.

When your brain doesn’t get the nutrients it needs, it’s hard to feel happy, mentally sharp, and productive.

And you put yourself at greater risk for mood disorders, brain aging, and degenerative brain diseases.

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Macronutrients and Your Brain

Macronutrients are nutrients consumed in relatively large amounts. There are three primary macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. But not all sources of each of these are good for your brain.

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Complex (Not Refined) Carbohydrates for Brain Energy

Brain cells can’t store energy and require a steady stream of it, usually in the form of glucose.

These cells can live only a few minutes without it!

Complex carbohydrates, the kind found in unprocessed fruits and vegetables, give your brain the sustained energy it needs.

They increase your blood’s ability to transport oxygen to your brain cells and keep your blood sugar level stable.

Starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams, carrots, beets, and winter squash are excellent at delivering a steady supply of glucose to your brain.

Strategically eating complex carbohydrates on their own (without protein) is a little-known trick for maintaining the level of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin.

Regular consumption of white sugar and other refined carbohydrates leads to chronically high blood sugar levels.

These unhealthy carbs can shrink your brain and cause memory loss.

There’s strong evidence that spikes in blood sugar contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, now considered by some to be a form of diabetes that selectively targets the brain.

Proteins for Neurotransmitter Synthesis

The body breaks down proteins into building blocks called amino acids.

Amino acids are a major component in the hundreds of brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters enable brain cells to communicate with each other.

Examples of common neurotransmitters include dopamine, serotonin, GABA, norepinephrine, and endorphins.

Neurotransmitters control your ability to focus, concentrate, and remember.

They regulate mood, cravings, addictions, sleep, and more.

Animals raised without the use of antibiotics, steroids, and hormones yield grass-fed meat, free-range poultry, wild fish, organic eggs, and dairy that are excellent protein sources.

Note that not everyone does well on dairy products.

The people that do are mostly of northern European ancestry.

You can get adequate protein on a vegetarian diet, but you have to do a little more planning.

The Right Fats for Brain Health

There is no area of nutrition that’s more misunderstood than dietary fats.

We’ve been brainwashed into believing that just about all fat is bad for us when, in fact, fats are essential for your brain.

We’ve been told that when we do eat fat, it should come from polyunsaturated vegetable oils.

But this advice couldn’t be worse for your brain!

People who consume a diet low in fats, and especially low in cholesterol, are at risk for depression and suicide.

The risk of dementia is reduced by 70% in those with high levels of cholesterol.

So-called “healthy” vegetable oils like canola, safflower, and soy are extracted with chemical solvents that create unhealthy trans fats.

Trans fats cause inflammation and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.

They can increase your risk of depression by up to 50%.

Your brain is largely made of fat, 60% by dry weight.

Give it the healthy fats it needs, the kind found in avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, and fatty fish like salmon, tuna, or mackerel.

They won’t make you fat, and they can help make you smarter and happier.

Brain Micronutrients Most Likely Missing From Your Diet

Micronutrients are nutrients that the body needs in very small amounts.

These include vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.

Your brain needs all essential micronutrients in order to be its best.

But there are a few that are often missing, even in healthy diets.

These deficiencies can profoundly impact your brain.

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B Vitamins — The Happy Vitamins

B vitamins have been called the “happy vitamins” or “anti-stress vitamins” because they can improve your mood and increase your tolerance to stress.

Vitamin B12, however, is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies.

In the US, an estimated 40% of adults are B12-deficient.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is serious.

It can lead to a wide spectrum of mental disorders including brain fog, memory loss, dementia, depression, and even Alzheimer’s.

Two particularly high-risk groups are seniors, who often have poor absorption of B12, and vegetarians, as B12 is found only in animal products.

Another at-risk group is people who take medications that interfere with vitamin B12 absorption.

The worst offenders are acid-reducing drugs and drugs for treating type-2 diabetes.

If you suspect you may be deficient, have your B12 level tested.

If you are low, supplementation can bring your levels back to normal quickly.

Vitamin D — The Sunshine Vitamin

It’s nearly impossible to get all you need from food or from the sun.

Only a handful of foods contain any vitamin D.

Most of the year, the sun isn’t strong enough in most of North America and Europe to allow your body to manufacture enough vitamin D.

The bottom line is that almost everyone could benefit from taking supplemental vitamin D.

As with vitamin B12, you can have your blood level checked to know for sure.

Magnesium — The Original Chill Pill

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Magnesium is so good at helping you sleep and relax, it’s been called “the original chill pill.”

When looking for a magnesium supplement, quality matters.

Cheap magnesium oxide is only 4% absorbed.

And magnesium sulfate, the form found in Epsom salts, can cause stomach upset when taken internally.

Better forms of magnesium include magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate, and magnesium l-threonate which is unique in its ability to enter the brain.

Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids

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It’s widely agreed that taking an omega-3 supplement is one of the best things you can do for your brain.

Essential fats experts estimate that 70% of the population is deficient in omega-3s. (28)

This omega-3 essential fatty acid is a major building block of the brain that is crucial to brain and nervous system function.

The best food sources are wild-caught fatty fish, not something most of us eat regularly.

There are two main omega-3 fatty acids — EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

DHA is by far the most important and accounts for 97% of the omega-3 fats found in the brain. (29)

Memory loss, depression, mood swings, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and attention deficit disorder have all been found to improve with DHA supplementation. (30)

Seniors with higher levels of DHA are nearly half as likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s as those with low levels of DHA. (31)

You can find out if you are getting adequate omega-3 fats with this omega-3 quiz created by AlwaysOmega3s, a not-for-profit organization.

If you aren’t, you should definitely consider taking a supplement.

Antioxidant Nutrients Protect Against Brain Aging

Free radicals are unattached oxygen molecules that damage cells and hasten their demise.

Every cell in your body is affected by free radical or oxidative damage, but brain cells are particularly vulnerable.

Antioxidants are naturally occurring compounds that protect you from the harmful effects of free radicals.

You can see oxidative damage in action by cutting open an apple.

In a short time, you’ll notice that it turns brown.

Oxygen in the air is causing oxidative damage you can see.

You may have learned the trick of rubbing cut fruit with a little lemon juice to keep it from turning brown.

While lemon juice won’t keep an apple fresh forever, it definitely slows down the spoiling process.

Similarly, when you consume a continuous supply of antioxidants, you slow down the cellular aging process.

By far, the top antioxidant foods are berries of all kinds, such as blackberries, blueberries, elderberries, strawberries, raspberries, and bilberries.

Other fruits include cherries, plums, apples, bananas, and grapes.

Top vegetable sources of antioxidants are artichokes, olives, spinach, onions, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkin, and potatoes.

Some of the world’s favorite foods and beverages also makes the list — chocolate, coffee, tea, red wine, and beer.

There are hundreds and perhaps even thousands of nutrients found in these foods that are responsible for their antioxidant properties.

Some of the most familiar ones include vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, manganese, glutathione, coenzyme Q10, lipoic acid, flavonoids, and polyphenols.

Two Forgotten But Critical Brain Nutrients

You might think that ingesting adequate amounts of oxygen and water would be automatic.

But most people use oxygen inefficiently and drink too little water.

And this can have surprising repercussions for your brain.

You might think that ingesting adequate amounts of oxygen and water would be automatic.

But most people use oxygen inefficiently and drink too little water.

And this can have surprising repercussions for your brain.

Your Brain Needs Oxygen

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Oxygen is one nutrient your brain can’t live without for more than a few minutes.

While clearly you are getting enough oxygen to survive, you may not be getting enough for your brain to thrive.

Here’s how to get the most from every breath you take:

- Practice good posture. Standing up straight can increase lung capacity by 5%.


- Practice breathing from your diaphragm. Most people breathe shallowly instead of deeply.


- If you smoke, stop. Smokers have less oxygen flow to their brains.


- Exercise! Exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your brain. It doesn’t need to be strenuous. Walking is particularly beneficial for the brain as are exercises with a strong mind-body connection like yoga and tai chi.


- Eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. This increases your blood’s ability to transport oxygen to your brain cells.


- Take brain-boosting vitamins or brain supplements that work by enhancing oxygen uptake by the brain. Ingredients that do this include bacopa, vinpocetine, huperzine A, acetyl-l-carnitine, and vitamins E and C.

Your Brain Needs Water

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Your brain is 73% water.

It takes only 2% dehydration to negatively affect your attention, memory, and other cognitive skills.

Ninety minutes of sweating can shrink the brain as much as one year of aging!

The effects of dehydration on the brain can be so noticeable that they mimic the symptoms of dementia.

Some researchers believe that Alzheimer’s may be the result of long-term dehydration of the brain.

Nutrients for a Healthy Brain: Conclusion

Your brain works hard.

It uses a lot of energy and needs a disproportionate amount of your nutrient intake to keep working its best.

Your brain will appreciate more of the healthy, and fewer of the unhealthy, forms of macronutrients — fats, carbohydrates, and protein.

Surprisingly, nutritional deficiencies are not a thing of the past.

Make sure you are getting adequate amounts of the micronutrients many people are deficient in — vitamins C, B, and D, magnesium, and omega-3 essential fatty acids.

And lastly, don’t ignore your brain’s need for optimal levels of water and oxygen.

Article curated from Be Brain Fit.

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