Eat with your brain in mind
Dietitian Carol Harrison on nutrition and mental health
FACT: The brain needs over 40 NUTRIENTS5,6 to run smoothly and uses up about 20%-25% of the body’s total food energy.7
Where will you find these 40+ NUTRIENTS?
Eating a combination of nutrient-dense, minimally processed plant- and animal-sourced foods is the best way to get the nutrients your brain requires to function properly. Here are some examples of foods that are particularly rich in nutrients known to be required for brain health.
Protein-brain health connection
If you thought protein was just for your muscles, think again.
Protein from our diet:
Is a major structural component of the brain and nerves
Is used for repair and maintenance of the brain’s vast circuitry
Provides amino acids, used to make our body’s chemical messengers (neurotransmitters)
Protein is vital for brain health too. That’s why it’s important to eat enough good-quality protein each day.
Another good reason to eat nutrient-rich food: poor diets are linked to poor mental health
Healthy dietary patterns are linked with less cognitive decline
Healthy dietary patterns, like the three below, feature minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods such as beef, seafood, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. It comes down to consistently choosing a tasty diet of nourishing food most of the time.
DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)
MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay)
Iron-brain health connection
Iron is vital for brain and mental health yet many Canadians suffer from iron deficiency.
- Public Health Agency of Canada. Prevalence of Chronic Diseases Among Canadian Adults. 2019.
- Public Health Agency of Canada. Mental Illness in Canada – Infographic. 2020.
- Government of Canada. Youth Mental Health. 2023.
- Navigating the Path Forward for Dementia in Canada: The Landmark Study Report #1, 2022.
- Bourre, J. M., (2006 Sep-Oct). Effects of nutrients (in food) on the structure and function of the nervous system: update on dietary requirements for brain. Part 1: micronutrients. J Nutr Health Aging. 10(5):377-385. 4.
- Bourre, J. M., (2006 Sep-Oct). Effects of nutrients (in food) on the structure and function of the nervous system: update on dietary requirements for brain. Par 2: macronutrients. J Nutr Health Aging. 10(5):386-399.
- Clark D, D. and Sokoloff, L. (1999) in Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular and Medical Aspects, eds. Siegel, G, J., Agranoff, B. W., Albers, R, W., Fisher, S. K. & Uhler, M. D. (Lippincott, Philadelphia), pp. 637-670.
- Zhang H, Hardie L, Bawajeeh AO, Cade J. Meat Consumption, Cognitive Function and Disorders: A Systematic Review with Narrative Synthesis and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2020 May 24;12(5):1528.
- Lane MM, Lotfaliany M, Hodge AM, O’Neil A, Travica N, Jacka FN, Rocks T, Machado P, Forbes M, Ashtree DN, Marx W. High ultra-processed food consumption is associated with elevated psychological distress as an indicator of depression in adults from the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study. J Affect Disord. 2023 Aug 15;335:57-66.
- Polsky JY, Moubarac JC, Garriguet D. Consumption of ultra-processed foods in Canada. Health Rep. 2020 Nov 18;31(11):3-15.
- Cooper M, Bertinato J, Ennis JK et al. Population Iron Status in Canada: Results from the Canadian Health Measures Survey 2012–2019. J Nutr. 2023 May;153(5):1534–43.