Mental Health

Poor Diet Linked to Unhappy Brain

Improve your mood and brain health with the right food. Nutrients in food influence all major functions of our body; from disease prevention to mental health and more.

By URLife Team
02 Jul 2024

You may be familiar with the saying, "You are what you eat," but did you know the food you eat could impact your memory? There are specific foods for brain ageing, and eating them could improve brain health and delay the onset of cognitive decline. Increasing evidence shows that mom was right: you should eat your veggies, whole grains and don’t forget the blueberries and walnuts. Scientists are backing up this age-old advice, proving that these foods are great for your brain health. 

Just as there is no magical pill to defy brain ageing, no single brain food can ensure a healthy brain as you age. But the confirmation that there may be a circular relationship between eating well, having a healthier brain and better mental well-being has opened new doors to debate what to eat to keep your brain healthy and what not to.


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According to a 2024 research carried out by the University of Reading, United Kingdom and Kings College London, eating a poor quality diet (high in sugar and saturated fats) can lead to brain changes linked to depression and anxiety. 

Another 2024 study published by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA, suggests better nutrition might help prevent cognitive decline. The study involved 100 cognitively healthy participants aged 65 to 75. The blood tests revealed a combination of fatty acids, antioxidants and carotenoids, and two forms of Vitamin E and choline — very similar to the Mediterranean diet — in the systems of those who showed slower than expected brain ageing in MRI scans and cognitive assessments. This implies that fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamin E are helpful in preventing cognitive decline.


Related story: 11 Ways to Train Your Brain To Focus Better


5 Foods For A Healthy Brain



According to a 2024 study published by Nutrients, the high antioxidant content of quinoa may play a role in the neuroprotective effects of these seeds. Further, the dietary supplementation with red quinoa extract, rich in phenolic and flavonoid compounds, showed a neuroprotective effect in mice treated with scopolamine. Scopolamine is a medicine that has been used experimentally in research, particularly in studies involving memory and cognitive function in animals, due to its ability to induce temporary amnesia and cognitive impairment. The same study concluded that quinoa did not alleviate anxiogenic behaviour or changes in weight gain induced by stress. 

Quinoa is rich in complex carbohydrates, iron, and B vitamins. The brain uses 20 per cent of the carbohydrates we eat, even though it's only 2 per cent of our body weight. Complex carbs are great for the brain because they give it a steady stream of energy for normal function. Iron helps carry oxygen in the blood, and oxygen is crucial for staying focused and attentive. B vitamins help the brain produce chemicals needed for memory formation.


Related story: Quinoa: The Superfood For Your Nutrition



Flavonoids, the natural plant pigments responsible for the vibrant colours of berries, are a diverse group of phytonutrients (plant chemicals) found in almost all fruits and vegetables and have been shown to enhance memory. Berries are a great source of flavonoids along with vitamins, minerals and fibre. 

A 2013 research conducted at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital revealed that women who ate two or more servings of strawberries and blueberries per week experienced a delay in memory decline equivalent to up to two-and-a-half years. An increase in the number of new neurons in the brain, a result of consuming berries, may be one reason that the ageing process slows down. Berries can also change the pathways involved in causing inflammation, cell survival, nerve cell transmission and the ability of the nerve cell to be flexible. 


Fatty Fish

A 2009 study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, compared the cognitive performance of more than 3,000 men aged 40 to 79 years. The researchers found that men with higher levels of vitamin D performed consistently better when it came to an individual’s attention and speed of information processing. Vitamin D, which is primarily synthesised in the skin following sun exposure and is also found in certain foods such as oily fish. Adequate dosage of vitamin D consumption is associated with improved cognitive function in middle-aged and older individuals.

Fatty fish are abundant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, healthy unsaturated fats have been linked to lower blood levels of beta-amyloid—the protein that forms damaging clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease. It is recommended to eat fish at least twice a week, but choose varieties that are low in mercury, such as salmon, trout, shrimp and oysters. 


Related story: Poor Diet Linked to Unhappy Brain


Omega-3 Fatty Acids

A 2008 study published by the University of California, Los Angeles confirms that omega-3 fatty acids— found in salmon, walnuts and kiwi fruit—provide many benefits. These include better learning and memory and protection against mental disorders like depression and mood disorders, schizophrenia, and dementia.  Omega-3 fatty acids help the brain stay flexible and improve connections between brain cells. They also boost the levels of certain molecules that are important for learning and memory. The same study also highlighted the fact that a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids in rodents results in impaired learning and memory.

As per 2007 research conducted by the Society For Neuroscience, diets containing two per cent, six per cent, or nine per cent walnuts, when given to old rats, were found to reverse several parameters of brain ageing, as well as age-related motor and cognitive deficits. Also, a six per cent diet is equivalent to  eating approximately 28 grams of walnuts (9 whole walnuts) each day, which is the recommended amount to reduce harmful low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol.



Apart from giving you the perfect kick at the start of the day, tea and coffee are also important for keeping your brain active. In a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, individuals who consumed more caffeine demonstrated improved performance on mental function tests. Other research suggests caffeine may aid in the consolidation of new memories. 

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University conducted an experiment where participants viewed a series of images and subsequently took either a placebo or a 200-milligram caffeine tablet. The study found that a higher proportion of participants in the caffeine group correctly identified the images the following day.


Related story: 5 Tweaks to Keep Your Brain Healthy


There are many foods that can help retain and improve the health of your brain. Diets like the Mediterranean diet have shown to be successful because they don’t just improve brain health, but health overall. Understanding what foods are ideal to include in your diet both for your brain and health is essential to living a healthier life. 


At UR.Life, we understand that this knowledge doesn’t come naturally, and having expert help can be useful in your journey to better your nutrition. If you’re looking to revamp your diet for a better lifestyle, book a consultation with a URLife nutritionist today to get started. Understand how your diet can be enhanced to improve your life in all aspects while catering to your lifestyle. 


Need all your wellness solutions in one place? A whole new world awaits just a click away.


At UR. Life Cafe, we believe that food should bring people together, and that's why we cater to all diets, including gluten-free and vegan. We make sure that everyone stepping in will find ample healthy options to choose from. If you're looking for a truly world-class dining experience, look no further than Cafe. At Cafe, we believe that food is more than just fuel for our bodies - it's a way to connect with others and nourish our souls. That's why we take great care in crafting our menu and creating an atmosphere that is welcoming and comfortable.



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