Can eating a tin of pilchards a week make you brainy? Research shows that eating certain foods can indeed enhance memory and mental performance. It is known that nearly all the nutrients in our diets have some influence over the function of the brain and the central nervous system and can indeed affect the way we think and feel.

Essential Fats

The brain is 60% fat and most of that is in the form of fatty acids. Essential Fatty Acids are the building blocks of the membranes of every cell in the body, especially the brain. The human brain is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are necessary for healthy neuron synapses needed for good message relaying. A growing amount of research suggests that the omega-3s are best suited for optimal brain function, especially memory, speech, and specific motor skills. The forebrain, that’s the part used the most for sustained attention, has the highest concentration of fatty acids.

The brain food that has perhaps received the most coverage is oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, pilchards, snoek and fresh tuna. Other sources of Omega 3 include canola oil, flaxseed, walnuts and soya.

Carbs and Protein

To maintain adequate levels of the brain fuel glucose, it’s important to eat often enough. Poor concentration and low energy levels can be a sign that it’s been too long since your last meal. So make smart carb choices, such as whole-grains, whole fruits, vegetables and legumes.

Eating foods high in carbohydrates also raises the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a mood-boosting brain chemical. When serotonin levels rise, we feel a calming effect and less anxiety.

Remember foods rich in carbohydrates help to stimulate the production of serotonin but you still need tryptophan – found in protein foods, as fuel for the creation of serotonin. Sources of good quality protein include animal foods, including eggs and dairy products.

When you eat a protein source containing tryptophan, together with a small amount of carbohydrate, all of the amino acids except for tryptophan are cleared from the bloodstream leaving tryptophan free to cross the blood-brain-barrier and form serotonin in the brain. Without enough serotonin to calm the brain, individuals may suffer many different ailments, particularly those that involve anxiety, obsessions, compulsions or insomnia.


Although it is not a vitamin by definition, choline works closely with B-vitamins to metabolize fat, promote heart health and produce acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter needed for brain and memory function. To ensure adequate acetylcholine levels, you must consume choline-rich foods.

Sources of choline include eggs, with egg yolks amongst the richest known natural source of choline. Choline is also found in foods like milk, peanuts, nuts, soy and broccoli.


Antioxidants are compounds in foods that neutralize free radicals which can damage the nerve cells of our brain. Antioxidants are found in fruit and vegetables. Think variety and colour and aim to have more than 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day.


B-vitamins Foods to Eat
Vitamin B1 is needed by the brain to help convert glucose into fuel and maintain energy. Wholegrains
Vitamin B3 breaks foods down into energy and helps to control blood glucose levels, thereby helping prevent mood swings. Peanut Butter
Folate, a B-vitamin that’s necessary for mood and proper nerve function in the brain. Legumes
Vitamin B6 is involved in serotonin production in the brain. Bananas
Vitamin B12 plays a major role in the metabolism of nervous tissue, helping to combat stress and stabilising mood. Lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, low fat dairy


Another great way to boost your mental power is to keep hydrated. Dehydration is one of the major causes of headaches, and severe dehydration can cause damage to brain cells. Couple this with plenty of sleep. Exercise often and add a good dose of relaxation – simple, yet very effective!