Brain Food: Myths and Realities

Jan 02, 2019

MSG won't destroy your brain, nor will aluminum cookware give you Alzheimer's (also, shocker, Twinkies don't actually last forever!). There are a lot of crazy things people believe about the food you eat and its connection to your brain. Here's some stuff that's actually true.

By Eric Garneau

Looking for a snack that will do more than satiate your stomach? You're in luck! It turns out the nutrients found in food act as precursors to neurotransmitters. That means that certain things you eat can jumpstart the production of chemicals in your brain. This affects how you feel, as well as how you perform at certain tasks (like, say, studying).

As with any nutritional advice, though, it's important to remember that all food should be consumed in moderation. Too much of a good thing usually becomes a bad thing. In addition, to achieve the maximum boost from any of the foods listed below, try not to combine them in a single sitting. Nutrients tend to offset each other's neurological effects when consumed simultaneously. Granted, that makes helping your mental state with food kind of tricky, since meals tend to contain a variety of foods. Still, there are things one can eat to give a little boost to his or her brainpower when necessary.

food science


Eggs contain the nutrient choline, a precursor to acetylcholine. Acetylcholine helps your brain's memory functions, which can really be useful when you've got a big test on the horizon. Hard-boiled eggs make a healthy snack that's easy to prepare and store. If you like your choline source a little less appetizing, you can turn to liver or soybeans.


Meat is a chief source of protein. Protein-rich foods contain the amino acid tyrosine, which leads to an increase in alertness and energy. So you might try keeping some lunch meat on hand for when you're feeling sluggish. Other foods with significant protein levels include milk, fish and our above-mentioned friend the egg.


Although carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap from plans like the Atkins diet, they're not so awful. Carbs have been shown to lead to increased levels of serotonin, which tends to bring feelings of calmness. Thus, carbs provide literal comfort food. If you want to relax you could keep some crackers or bread around for a snack, or enjoy a pasta dinner.

brain activity

Coffee or Soda

This may seem counterintuitive, but caffeine can act as an effective anti-depressant when used moderately. Middle Tennessee State University reports that one or two cups of coffee a day has been shown to have beneficial effects in improving one's mood. Besides, how else are you supposed to get to class in the morning?


It sounds like one of those crazy myths, but Carol J. Lammi-Keefe at Louisiana State University confirms it: fish really is brain food. Fish fat, which is different from the fat found in other types of food, leads to increased brain development through promoting new neural connections. Granted, this is more of a long-term game plan than a temporary pick-me-up, but two or more servings of fish a week can help a brain's general functionality, which should prove useful to one's general mental condition.

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