What are the Best Foods for Brain Health?

No matter your age and no matter what you do on a daily basis, your brain function is so important in everything you do. Luckily, if you are wanting to keep your brain healthy and improve your ability to learn, memorize, remember, and concentrate, you really just have to eat a balanced diet! While many foods can help improve brain health, there is no magic formula to follow for a healthy brain.

The best foods for a healthy brain and mental health are ones rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, lutein, and antioxidants. Brain health foods are pretty much just a well-balanced diet filled with nutrient-rich foods like fatty fish, berries and other fruits, dark spinach, kale, other vegetables, walnuts, eggs, avocado, and extra virgin olive oil! 

Read on for more information about what foods are the best for brain health, what to eat to help with concentration and test taking for school, specific vitamins that are good for the brain, what to eat during study sessions, and foods that can help improve mental health and well-being.

What Nutrients Help Improve Brain Health?

If you want to help your brain, you are not alone! Let’s go through some of the important nutrients for brain health and what foods contain those nutrients! *Spoiler alert* you will notice there are tons of foods included that can benefit your brain, so focus on eating a healthy, balanced diet with lots of variety!


Your brain loves using carbohydrates for energy. You might not feel like you are burning through a lot of energy when you are just sitting at school, but your brain is working super hard! Carbohydrates should be consumed at every meal and snack to give your brain and body a boost of energy.

Carbohydrates are found in fruits and fruit juices, starches and grains (like bread, pasta, rice,  yogurt, milk, starchy vegetables (like peas, corn, and potatoes), and anything that contains sugar (both natural and added sugar are carbohydrates).


Protein helps to stabilize your blood sugar by slowing down the digestion of carbohydrates so that your brain has a steady source of energy. Protein is also important for building and maintaining muscle! If your brain doesn’t get enough carbohydrates, it has to convert protein to an energy source and sometimes it does that by breaking down your muscles, which is not good.

In order for your body to work properly, it needs lots of different nutrients in their correct proportions, and protein is an essential nutrient that your body needs! Protein is found in foods like meat, fish, poultry, nuts, nut butters, beans and lentils, cow milk, eggs, greek yogurt, tofu, and soy milk.


Fat plays a similar role to protein in the body- it also helps to slow down your digestion to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Fat also is helpful for absorbing certain vitamins and decreasing inflammation which is so important for your brain!

Choose healthy sources of fats that are high in unsaturated fats like avocados, olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, nut butters, and seeds. Try to use these in place of high saturated fat foods where you can! 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Remember how important fats are for brain health? Well, Omega-3 fatty acids are one type of fat in particular that really helps decrease inflammation and have been found to be associated with improved cognitive function.

The best sources of omega-3’s are in seafood, and especially salmon, sardines, bluefin tuna, and herring.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E has been associated with a slower decline of brain function and it is an easy vitamin to get through your diet! Good sources of vitamin E include olive oil, berries, seeds, nuts, whole grains, avocados, leafy green vegetables, and bell peppers. 

B Vitamins

There doesn’t seem to be clear data to show that B vitamins help improve brain function, but there is evidence that a lack of B12 is linked to poor brain function. Vitamin B12 is found only in animal foods, so people following a vegetarian or vegan diet might need a supplement to meet their needs. 


Lutein is found in egg yolk, spinach, kale, and avocado, and has been shown to improve memory.


These are found mostly in fruits (especially berries), vegetables, and herbs help to decrease inflammation and have been linked to a healthier brain!

See also:

What Foods Improve Concentration for School?

Eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods consistently is really going to help your overall brain function improve, help you feel better, and improve your ability to concentrate! Check out the foods listed for foods to include if you are interested in improving your concentration!

For people that have difficulty concentrating at school, one potential reason could be that you are actually not eating enough food in general. 

What Should I Eat Before a Test?

If you go into a test hungry, you are probably going to be thinking about food more than what is on the test. If you go into a test too full, you might feel drowsy or bloated and have trouble concentrating. So what is the best thing to eat before a test?

I recommend eating a balanced meal that has a good source of carbohydrates, paired with some protein and fat. I would stay away from caffeine because it can sometimes make you jittery and more anxious. Instead, stick to real food to get your energy!

Be mindful as you choose foods on test day- what foods make you feel energized and alert? Choose foods that make you feel calm and confident on the day of your test.

What Vitamins are Good for the Brain?

Vitamin E is one vitamin that is often talked about with brain health, but there are so many more! In general, those with higher intakes of vitamins and minerals from food sources tend to have better brain function and live a healthier life.

My advice is to first rely on food to get the vitamins your brain needs. Eat a variety of foods from each of the food groups and then use vitamin supplements as necessary. You can check with your doctor to find out if there are any supplements that would be beneficial for your body and brain.

What Should I Eat During Late Night Studying?

Hopefully you do not have too many late nights, because sleep is one of the most important factors of brain function. When your teacher reminds you to get a good night’s sleep before the big test, they are giving you good advice.

However, late nights of studying will inevitably happen, and you might need some extra snacks to keep your brain working! Late at night it can be tempting to turn to caffeine, chips, candy, cookies, or other similar foods, but those aren’t always the best for your brain. I recommend pairing some carbohydrates with protein for some sustained energy that won’t cause a big crash.

Maybe try out some of the following snacks next time you are up late studying:

  • Crackers and cheese
  • Trail mix
  • Chocolate milk
  • Pretzels and peanut butter
  • Wheat thins and a cheese stick
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage cheese and triscuits
  • Avocado toast with an egg

What Nutrients Help with Mental Health?

The nutrients that can help with mental health are pretty similar to the ones already discussed for overall brain health. Including omega-3 fatty acids, lots of vitamins and minerals, and decreasing highly processed and sugary foods might help with mental health. 

The timing of eating and balance of foods can also help with mental health. Spikes and drops in your blood sugar can sometimes make mental health issues like anxiety feel even worse. In order to avoid this, I recommend pairing carbohydrates with protein every time you eat! 

I think it is also helpful to keep track of what foods feel good or not so good in your body. Everyone is going to have a slightly different reaction to food, so I encourage everyone to create a mindful relationship with food where you can recognize what foods make you feel your best!

Of course, nutrition can never take the place of therapy or medications, but sometimes it can be a great addition to other treatment methods.

Top Foods for Mental Health

There is no food that cures mental health issues- but it would be nice if there was! Here are a few foods that you can add to your diet that might help with mental health:

  1. Fruits and Vegetables
  2. Whole Grains
  3. Legumes 
  4. Seafood
  5. Berries
  6. Nuts (Including walnuts)

Does that mean you should cut out everything else and only eat those 6 foods? Absolutely not! All foods can be part of a nutritious diet.

Since eating can sometimes be a coping mechanism during times of stress, I encourage everyone to be mindful eaters. Pay attention to how your body feels as you eat certain foods. Pay attention to the texture, the temperature, and appearance of the food and really savor each bite! 

Bad mental health days can also result in a lack of appetite for some people. If that is the case, set reminders to eat and choose foods that make your body feel energized. Remember that your body still needs food even on hard days when you might not feel like eating!


Your brain works hard every day and needs certain nutrients to support all its efforts. Eating for brain health is important for people of all ages, and the earlier you start including nutrient-dense foods, the better! The teenage years are a great time to develop healthy eating patterns that will stick with you for the rest of your life.

I don’t recommend cutting out a bunch of foods to improve brain health. Instead, take a look at what you are already doing and then see what you can add. Maybe that means including more fish, including a vegetable with dinner, or adding some fruit to your breakfast. 

In addition to eating mindfully and including plenty of nutrient-rich foods, be aware of other factors that influence brain health. Make sure you are managing stress, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and taking time to relax and do things you enjoy. Your brain and body will thank you for your effort!


Horton B. 5 foods to eat for better mental health. Eatingwell.com. Published May 13, 2021.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Improve brain health with the MIND diet. Mayoclinic.org. Published July 31, 2019.

Moore M, Klemm S. 4 types of food to support memory. Eatright.org. Published September 16, 2021.

Sutter Health. Eating well for mental health. Sutterhealth.org

Thalheimer JC. Nutrients for a sharp memory. Todaysdietitian.com. Published December 2017.

Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

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