The grocery list for a better brain

Fooooooood. Who doesn’t love food? IT’S AMAZING. The tastes, the smells, the textures, the sensations, the social experience.

But food is also complicated.

Food can either make you feel amazing and full of energy or make you want to curl up in the corner with an awful stomach ache. Food affects the body & mind, for better or worse. The cool thing is… you get to choose how it makes you feel, you have the power to have a lot of energy, you have the power to be in a balanced mood.

Food and the brain have a very close relationship, so close that the slightest drop in glucose and fat is felt by the frontal lobes, changing your behavior, making you moody and cranky. In other words, “hangry.” A change in cognitive function and mood is one of the PRIMARY signals of nutrient deficiencies.

I know what you’re probably thinking, “a drop in glucose and fat makes my brain function worse?! I thought sugar and fat were bad, so less should be better, right?”

Nope. The name of the game is balance. Balance of the right sugars and fats.

I’ll give you the breakdown.

If you were to take a brain and dehydrate it, sucking out all of the water, there would be 5 key components left over: fat, proteins, amino acids, micronutrients, and glucose. These 5 items each play a distinct role in brain function, development, mood, and energy.

The most abundant of these components is fat, aka lipids. Therefore, we need fats! But beware, there are many different types of fats and your brain functions best on one main category: Omegas. Omegas 3 & 6.

These fats keep the lipid bilayer of the cell healthy and happy, making them crucial to the maintenance of cell membranes.

An imbalance of the omegas, whether that’s a lack in 3 or an excess in 6, can lead to neurodegenerative disease, like Alzheimer’s. No bueno.

However, unfortunately, the body doesn’t produce it’s own omegas. So, that means YOU have to consume them. Luckily, you can find them in tasty food such as nuts, seeds, avocados and fatty fish like salmon.


Pause. Grocery list update.

Ok, so now that you’ve added nuts, seeds, and salmon to your grocery list, let’s move on to protein.

Next on the list: proteins and amino acids. Amino-Acids are the building blocks of proteins and amino-acids also contain precursors to neurotransmitters, the chemicals in your brain that send signals from one cell to another, changing your mental state in mere milliseconds.


Amino acids can change the signaling of your brain, whether that’s increased noradrenaline, dopamine, or serotonin. All three of these neurotransmitters change how you see the world. A balance of these transmitters means being in a calm and pleasant state. An imbalance means that you’re in an irritable, more depressed place, ultimately leading to cognitive decline and disorders like schizophrenia.

Right now you should be screaming, “Give me those aminos!” Ok, so you can add proteins like turkey, eggs, and dairy to your list. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, load up on the beans and seeds.


Ok, moving on.

Cool factoid time: The Brain is only 2% of body weight, but it uses up to 20% of our energy supply. Your brain burns a lot of energy, and most of that energy comes from carbs that our body turns into glucose, aka sugar.

So yes, we’re gonna tell you that carbs and sugar are necessary. What most people don’t know is that carbs are broken down into three components: Starch, Sugar, and Fiber. It is the ratio of these components that make a carb better or worse.

White-bread has a high-glycemic load, meaning that the ratio of starch and sugar to fiber is really high. What this does is cause a big, quick release of glucose into the body.

Here comes the high. And then here comes the drop. The body can’t sustain such a quick and large amount of glucose, so the blood sugar dips back down again and with it goes your attention and mood.

But, there is good news! If you each carbs that are higher in fiber, there will be a slower release of glucose into the body, creating a steadier and more sustainable state of attention and mood. For this, you need to eat non-refined carbs because they still contain fiber, iron, and Vitamin B.

So this time at the store, reach for whole grains (non-refined) and legumes for energy that is more pleasant and longer lasting.

Ok, so we’ve made it to the last category: micronutrients.

Carbs, proteins, and fats are all macronutrients, and we need a large amount of them. Micronutrients are elements like vitamins and minerals that are essential to our health, but that we only need in smaller amounts.

The micronutrients that our brains thrive off of are iron, copper, zinc, sodium, B6, and B12. All of these are essential to brain health and early cognitive development. A lack of B6 and B12 lead to brain diseases and decline.

Another key player: Antioxidants! Antioxidants, such as vitamin C, help to fight off free radicals. Free radicals are unpaired, unstable molecules and all they want in life is stability, so they attack other molecules to become paired again. When this happens, the attacked molecule itself becomes a free radical and the process continues until the cell erupts.

Rest in Peace, cell.

But there is hope, there is hope of combating the free radicals will every fruit and vegetable you eat. Fruits and veggies are high in antioxidants and vitamins, specifically berries, cherries, apples, small red beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans.

Veggies in general are where you can get a huge source of vitamins and minerals, so load up on all the greens.

The most important things about your grocery this for a better brain is this: variety.

Taking all things into consideration: the neurotransmitters, the fats, the carbs, the micronutrients, it is clear that is takes a complex combination of compounds in foods to reap all of the benefits.

Making sure that your diet is varied with nutrient rich foods is the best recipe for a brain that is alert and calm.

So, for your convenience, we made your next grocery list:

  • Nuts: Walnuts
  • Seeds: Pumpkin, Hemp, Chia seeds
  • Avocados
  • Salmon
  • Turkey
  • Eggs
  • Dairy: Animal milk &/or cheese
  • Whole Grains: Oats, Brown Rice
  • Legumes: peas, alfalfa, lentils
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Cranberries
  • Cherries
  • Gala Apples
  • Small Red Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Sprouts

Try this diet out! Start a log and document how you feel mentally after eating different foods. Becoming more aware of the body-brain connection will give you more freedom and more power to give yourself a bit more energy and bit more happiness.

From my brain & heart to yours,

Hannah Heimer
Hannah Heimer

I’m a brain enthusiast and yoga fanatic. I work as a researcher at the University of California, San Diego while also running a yoga business on the side.

I use brain research and yoga as a springboard to blog about lifestyle, health, happiness, and how it all relates to your brain.

Just like the nerve cells in our brains, I love making new connections. So, feel free to reach out. For more info on yoga and the brain, take some time to explore