5 min|Rhiannon Lockhart

Nourishing the Mind: The Top Brain-Boosting Foods for Optimal Cognitive Health

Wellness, Nutrition, Mind Health, Education

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 1 in 5 people in Canada will experience a mental health problem or illness in any given year (1).

Whether we know it or not, most of us know someone that is living with a mental illness - and this can range from short-term anxiety to issues like Alzheimer’s disease. But did you know that you can use brain-boosting foods (and some lifestyle factors) to change that?

Here are 5 ways you can include (or exclude) brain-boosting foods in your diet!

brain boosting foods

1. Always include green leafy vegetables

Green veggies are high in antioxidants! Antioxidants can help to reduce free-radical damage and overall inflammation in our body. Plus, they give us the nutrients needed to keep our brains healthy, and stabilize our moods.

2. Eat omega-3 fatty acids in wild-caught fish

Again, we see how Omega-3 fatty acids can help decrease overall inflammation in our bodies. We tend to over consume Omega-6s, which, while necessary, can be pro-inflammatory when not in the correct ratio to omega-3s. Be sure to consume wild-caught, fatty fish including salmon, mackerel and sardines.

3. Add MCT Oil to tea, coffee or salads

You've probably heard MCT oil when talking to one of your friends who is thinking about a ketogenic diet, but MCT oil also has a lot of brain-boosting benefits. MCT stands for medium chain triglycerides, and is derived from coconut or palm oil (I usually choose those from coconut oil for the environment's sake).

4. Maybe ditch the coffee

Coffee is a bit of a catch 22 in regards to mental health and brain function. For many people, this cup of gold can really get our wheels turning in the morning, and it even has shown benefits in regards to long-term memory. However, if you deal with anxiety or depression, coffee might not be your best friend, even when it feels like you can't get through the day without it. Caffeine can effect our cortisol (stress) hormones, and lead to a cascade effect resulting in more stress and energy crashes through the day.

5. Include more fermented foods

Fermented foods help to feed our beneficial bacteria in our guts. As we've learned, there is actually a lot of serotonin that has been produced in our gut - remember, that's our happy hormone!

Fermented foods include:
  • Yogurt and Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Sourdough bread
  • Kombucha
  • Tempeh

6. Reduce refined sugars

Refined sugars can lead to imbalanced blood sugar - like that hangry feeling we get when we forget to eat lunch. Our blood sugar can have a cascade effect, interacting with hormones that promote feelings of anxiety, depression, irritability and even brain fog and memory loss. But it isn't just food that is important! How we live each day can have a significant impact on our mood, as well as our long-term memory.

Lifestyle factors


Getting enough sleep each day (aim for 7-9 hours), helps to balance our stress hormones and regenerate our brains over night. Just like turning a computer off when it's not working properly, our brains need that every day.

Environmental toxins

Reduce chemical exposures by swapping to all-natural body care and house-cleaning products! When you reduce your overall toxic load, your body can clear out excess hormones and toxins more readily

Stress management/mindset

Okay, I’ll be honest. I can tell you to reduce your stress load, but what would that look like? For most people, many stressors come from factors they can’t control, like work and children. And for many people who lead very full lives, adding in another to-do like meditation, yoga or journalling may seem out of reach. This is where shifting your mindset can come in handy (note: if this feels completely unacheivable, it may help to speak to a professional). First thing in the morning, pick three things to be grateful for during the day, or set alarms on your phone every few hours to take a deep breath and say, in your head, what you are grateful for in that moment. Here are a few examples:
  • "I am grateful for a job that pays my bills"
  • "I am thankful for [insert person's name] who supports me"
  • "I am grateful for my ability to change my mindset"
Other ways to practice mindfulness and stress management, that can take just five minutes:
  • Journaling. The 5-Minute journal is an easy way to help shift your mindset each day; there is also an app you can download if your morning's feel a little too rushed to fit this in.
  • Meditation or deep breathing. You can do this for a short 1 minute or work your way up to an hour. Set your timer on your phone for every 1 or 2 hours, when it goes off, simply take a deep breath that goes into your belly.
  • Walk around the block. Schedule more "walking meetings" with colleagues, or take yourself around the block at least twice per day.
Book an appointment with our Naturopathic Doctors to see how you can use food to boost your brain!
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