The effect of nutrient-rich food on brain function and healthy snacks for your lunch box.

Home » The effect of nutrient-rich food on brain function and healthy snacks for your lunch box.

A nutrient-rich diet can aid cognitive health. It has recently been confirmed that relative abundance of specific nutrients can affect your emotions and cognitive processes. Brain health relies on many factors, including nutrients from your everyday diet (Turner, 2011).  Not only does our food provide energy and growth to our bodies, it also acts as protection against disease. When it comes to brain function and health, micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, trace 

elements, amino acids and essential fatty acids are directly associated with cerebral functioning (Bourre, 2006).

This is all good and well, but where does the brain get its energy from? The energy our body consumes is derived from carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The brain has a relatively high metabolic rate, meaning

that it burns through plenty of our energy stores. Scientists have found that the brain can be accountable for up to 30% of our metabolic expenditure, even during rest (Turner, 2011).  It is a misconception that one does not need to eat on a regular basis when inactive. Brain functioning and cognitive alertness has been shown to diminish with the absence of proper nutrients (Somer, 1995). Meal rich in c

arbohydrates aid

the amino acid tryptophan, by allowing it to pass freely into the brain. Once in the brai

n tryptophan causes a release of serotonin. Serotonin then aids in the feeling of calmness, improved sleeping patterns, increase pain tolerance and reduced cravings for food (Somer, 1995). The brain also requires essential fatty acids, which cannot be produced within the body. These essential fatty acids must thus be consumed via our diet. Essential fatty acids play a vital role in our nervous system functioning, vision and immune and inflammatory responses (Turner, 2011).

It can clearly be seen that a diet with great variety is essential to normal brain function. A balanced and nutrient-rich diet not only promotes cognitive function, the physical and other health benefits have been documented time and time again. Through the careful structuring of a diet it is possible to improve our emotions, health and cognitive functioning (Gillette-Guyonnet, 2008).



These nutrients aren’t always easy to find for us mere mortals, but with a few simple snacks you can make sure you get the nutrients you brain needs. We’ve all seen them in our local supermarket, “Superfoods”. What exac

Health Snack

tly makes them so super? Superfoods are said to be nutrient-rich that are especially good for our health and well-being. Include the following foods into you lunch box to insure you’re getting all the right nutrients.


Blueberries have been shown to increase learning capacity and motor-ability in those that incorporate them into their diet. Add a few blueberries to your breakfast or incorporate them into a smoothie.

Wild Salmon:

Wild Salmon and most other deep-water fish are high in Omega-3, which is an

essential fatty acid. Salmon is also very low in unwanted fats and can be found in abundance. Cook Salmon in Olive oil and add a few herbs and spices.

Nuts and Seeds:

Nuts and seeds are high in vitamin E which have been associated with decreased decline in cognitive function due to age. Nuts such as Walnuts, Hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, Filberts, Almonds, Cashews, Peanuts, Sunflower seeds and Sesame seeds are all a good option. Be careful however of Salted nuts. It can be easy to consume too much salt which comes with its own list of problems.


Healthy fat


Avocados are a fatty fruit. The good fats, those that we need to improve our blood flow. Increased blood flow means a healthy brain. Improved blood flow also means lower blood pressure. There are hundreds of delicious recipes in which Avocados can be used. Toast some whole-grain bread and add avocado!

Whole Grains:

Whole-grain bread provides the body with Fibre, Vitamin E as well as Omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients will help out your cardiovascular system, improving blood flow to each and every organ, including the brain.


Beans help regulate your blood glucose. As mentioned before, the brain cannot store the glucose it needs for energy but rather relies on a steady stream of glucose. Any beans will do, but black beans and lentils seem to be the most important.

Pomegranate Juice:

Pomegranates, be it the fruit or in juice form, offer powerful antioxidants which helps protect the brain against free radicals. No other body part is more susceptible to free radicals than the brain.

Freshly Brewed Tea:

Freshly brewed tea contains a helpful source of caffeine, which if used moderately can boost brain and cognitive performance. Tea also has antioxidants and is very easy and convenient to make.

Dark Chocolate:

Yes, you read correctly. Dark chocolate contains powerful antioxidants and natural stimulants such as caffeine. These nutrients will enhance focus and concentration and can even aid the production of endo

rphins. About 30g per day is all you needs, bummer.


Bourre, J.M., 2006. Effects of nutrients (in food) on the structure and function of the nervous system: update on dietary requirements for brain. Part 1: micronutrients. Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging10(5), p.377.

Somer, E., 1995. Food and mood. American Health14, pp.58-58.


Gillette-Guyonnet, S. and Vellas, B., 2008. Caloric restriction and brain function. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care11(6), pp.686-692.

Tuner, J., 2011. Your brain on Food: A Nutrient-Rich Diet Can Protect Cognitive Health. Journal of the American Society of Aging, 35(2), p.99-106


Article Credit: Willem Landman /Sports Scientist