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The role of diet and nutrition in brain health and concentration

Julia Park
brain health, eating, wellbeing


In an era of biohacking and performance-enhancing wearables, the age-old adage, “You are what you eat,” has never been more critical. While technology like EEG brain-sensing headbands gives us insights into our neural pathways, helping us refine focus and sleep patterns, what’s on our plates remains a cornerstone of our cognitive well-being. 

Ever had that mental fog after a meal too rich? Or felt on top of your game after indulging in certain superfoods? It’s no coincidence. Just as our bodies lean on nutrition for energy and repair, our brains depend heavily on our dietary choices to function at their best.

Today we’re diving deep into the profound influence of diet on our brain health and concentration, highlighting why that breakfast or lunch choice might just be the secret weapon in your productivity toolkit. 

Why nutrition matters to the brain

Every bite we take, be it a crunchy apple or a decadent slice of chocolate cake, plays a symphony in our brains. But why is nutrition such a pivotal player in our cognitive orchestra?

1. Fuel for thought:

At its core, the brain is an energy-intensive organ, accounting for about 20% of our body’s total energy consumption, even while it only weighs about 2% of our body weight. [1]

Glucose, derived from carbohydrates we consume, is its primary energy source. A steady supply of glucose supports concentration, memory, and learning, emphasizing the significance of balanced meals and snacks throughout the day. 

2. Building blocks of the brain:

Nutrition isn’t just about energy; it’s about structure. The fatty acids in our diet, especially omega-3s, are crucial components of our brain cells’ membranes. [2] These membranes play a role in everything from neurotransmission to protection.

Without the right building blocks, the structural integrity of our brain cells can diminish, impacting cognitive functions. 

3. The neurotransmitter network:

Foods can influence our mood and thought processes by affecting our neurotransmitter production and function. [3] For example, the amino acid tryptophan, found in turkey and pumpkin seeds, is a precursor to serotonin – a neurotransmitter linked with mood regulation and well-being. Which explains the sleepy feeling you may have after a hearty Thanksgiving dinner!

4. Shielding and repair:

Antioxidants, derived from colorful fruits, vegetables, and other sources, protect our brains from oxidative stress. This stress, caused by free radicals, can lead to cellular damage. [4] Ensuring a diet rich in antioxidants is like giving our brain a protective shield against premature aging and potential damage. 

5. Enhancing neural connectivity:

Certain nutrients, like flavonoids found in berries and dark chocolate, can stimulate the growth of neurons – a process called neurogenesis. [5] Additionally, they can enhance the formation of synapses, the connections between these neurons, which are vital for memory and learning. 

Harnessing the power of EEG technology, the latest brain wave monitors have made it evident: when we’re well-nourished, our brains operate at a higher frequency, showing more consistent and sharper focus patterns. Backed by centuries of intuitive understanding confirms the undeniable link between our plates and our cognitive function. 

blueberries, eating, brain health

Brain-boosting foods - the heroes of concentration

Brain health isn’t just about avoiding the bad stuff; it’s about actively including foods that fuel cognitive function. Let’s explore some nutritional heroes known to promote brain health and sharp concentration:

1. Fatty fish

Salmon, trout, mackerel, and other fatty fish are a treasure trove of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s, specifically EPA and DHA, support brain health throughout life. They maintain brain cell structure, facilitate communication between neurons, and have been linked to reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases. [6]

2. Blueberries

These little blue jewels pack a punch! Rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, blueberries have been studied for their potential to delay cognitive decline and enhance memory. [7]

3. Turmeric

Curcumin, the active component in turmeric, readily crosses the blood-brain barrier. It boasts anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and may play a role in lifting mood, growing new brain cells, and fighting off brain-related diseases. [8]

4. Broccoli

Beyond just being a healthy vegetable, broccoli offers a substantial amount of antioxidants and Vitamin K. Research suggests that this vitamin could support brain health and cognitive functions. [9]

5. Pumpkin seeds

These tiny seeds contain a wealth of antioxidants and a rich source of magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper. Magnesium, for instance, is critical for nerve signaling, while zinc is essential for nerve signaling and neurotransmitter function. [10]

6. Dark chocolate

The dark, delectable treat is loaded with flavonoids, caffeine, and antioxidants. Flavonoids in chocolate gather in brain areas involved in learning and memory. Individuals who consume chocolate often perform better in various cognitive tasks. [11]

7. Nuts

Especially walnuts, which have a higher omega-3 content than other nuts, have been linked to better brain function. Studies suggest that a higher nut intake may be linked to improved cognitive function in older adults. [12]

With the help of Muse’s state-of-the-art EEG technology in the Muse S headband and Muse 2 headband, meditators can track and measure the benefits of a diet rich in these brain-boosting foods. By visualizing the changes in focus and concentration levels, it’s possible to get a tangible insight into how nutrition genuinely fuels the mind. 

Foods that negatively impact our focus

While we’ve delved into the foods that can act as allies in the path to better brain health and concentration, it’s equally important to identify those that may not be so friendly. Here are foods and beverages to consume with caution:

1. Sugary drinks

Soda, energy drinks, and even some fruit juices can have high sugar content. Excessive sugar intake is linked to a host of health issues, including cognitive decline. Chronic consumption might impair memory and hinder neurotransmitter function. [13]

2. Refined carbs

Foods like white bread, pastries, and other processed foods often contain refined carbohydrates. Such carbs can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar, potentially leading to brain fog and a lack of focus in the short term and affecting brain health in the long term. [14]

3. Foods high in trans fat

While some fats are beneficial, trans fats are not. Found in some margarine, fast foods, and packaged baked goods, they’ve been linked to impaired memory and a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. [15

4. Alcohol

In moderate amounts, certain alcoholic beverages might offer health benefits. However, excessive consumption can damage the brain, leading to reduced memory, and cognitive functions, and even increasing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. 

5. Aspartame

This artificial sweetener, found in many sugar-free products, might impact certain people’s cognitive functions. Some studies suggest potential changes in behavior and brain chemicals upon consumption. [16]

6. Highly processed foods

Often high in sugar, fats, and sodium, processed foods like chips and pre-made meals might contribute to cognitive decline. Regular consumption can impact brain tissues, leading to decreased brain volume and poorer memory. [17]

Knowing what to eat is only half the battle. By employing Muse’s brain-sensing headbands, Muse 2 and Muse S, you can monitor your brain’s reactions to dietary changes. You might be surprised at how certain foods impact your meditation sessions or sleep quality. By understanding this relationship, you can make more informed choices, choosing to eat foods that truly nourish the brain. 

mindfulness, eating, brain health

Final takeaways

Eating isn’t just about satisfying hunger or delighting our taste buds. Each bite we take holds the potential to nourish our brain, enhancing concentration and overall brain health. From the powerful antioxidants in berries to the harmful effects of processed foods, our dietary choices play a pivotal role in how our brains function. 

Understanding this relationship between diet and brain health is only the beginning. To further support you on this journey, our app offers over 500+ guided meditations, including the Mindful Eating Collection, crafted to enrich your understanding and practice of nourishing both body and mind. 

Advancements in technology, like the Muse 2 and Muse S headbands that harness the power of EEG, allow us to actively gauge our brain’s health in response to certain life choices. These insights offer a personalized approach, benefiting our bodies and ensuring our minds are in peak condition. 

As you stand at this intersection of knowledge and technology, make a conscious effort to choose foods that bolster your brain’s potential and leverage innovative tools that guide you toward optimal mental well-being. After all, a well-fed brain isn't just about intelligence; it’s about living a life full of clarity, focus, and purpose. 


[1] Balasubramanian, V. (2021). Brain power. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 118(32).

[2] Caramujo, M. J. (2018). The Various Roles of Fatty Acids. Molecules: A Journal of Synthetic Chemistry and Natural Product Chemistry, 23(10).

[3] Lachance, L., & Ramsey, D. (2015). Food, Mood, and Brain Health: Implications for the Modern Clinician. Missouri Medicine, 112(2), 111-115.

[4] Pizzino, G., Irrera, N., Cucinotta, M., Pallio, G., Mannino, F., Arcoraci, V., Squadrito, F., Altavilla, D., & Bitto, A. (2017). Oxidative Stress: Harms and Benefits for Human Health. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2017.

[5], [11] Nehlig, A. (2013). The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 75(3), 716-727.

[6] Avallone, R., Vitale, G., & Bertolotti, M. (2019). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Neurodegenerative Diseases: New Evidence in Clinical Trials. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 20(17).

[7] Devore, E. E., Kang, J. H., Breteler, M. B., & Grodstein, F. (2012). Dietary intake of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Annals of Neurology, 72(1), 135.

[8] Hewlings, S. J., & Kalman, D. S. (2017). Curcumin: A Review of Its Effects on Human Health. Foods, 6(10).

[9] Alisi, L., Cao, R., Angelis, C. D., Cafolla, A., Caramia, F., Cartocci, G., Librando, A., & Fiorelli, M. (2019). The Relationships Between Vitamin K and Cognition: A Review of Current Evidence. Frontiers in Neurology, 10.

[10] Kirkland, A. E., Sarlo, G. L., & Holton, K. F. (2018). The Role of Magnesium in Neurological Disorders. Nutrients, 10(6).

[12] Nishi, S. K., Sala-Vila, A., Julvez, J., Sabaté, J., & Ros, E. (2023). Impact of Nut Consumption on Cognition across the Lifespan. Nutrients, 15(4).

[13] Anjum, I., Jaffery, S. S., Fayyaz, M., Wajid, A., & Ans, A. H. (2018). Sugar Beverages and Dietary Sodas Impact on Brain Health: A Mini Literature Review. Cureus, 10(6).

[14] Hawkins, M. A. W., Keirns, N. G., & Helms, Z. (2018). Carbohydrates and cognitive function. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 21(4), 302–307.

[15] Morris, M. C., & Tangney, C. C. (2014). Dietary fat composition and dementia risk. Neurobiology of Aging, 35 Suppl 2, S59.

[16] Choudhary, A. K., & Lee, Y. Y. (2018). The debate over neurotransmitter interaction in aspartame usage. Journal of Clinical Neuroscience, 56, 7-15.

[17] Gómez-Pinilla, F. (2008). Brain foods: The effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 9(7), 568.

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