Diet for the Brain

A Plant-Based Diet

We believe a plant-based diet is a healthy diet. It consists mainly of plant-based foods, along with small portions of preferably organic, consciously produced animal products, such as free-range, grass-fed meats. Vegetarians on a strict plant-based diet need to routinely check their levels of certain nutrients that are difficult or not possible to obtain from plants and supplement where deficient. Be particularly careful of getting enough of vitamin B12, zinc, and iron. Our recommended diet incorporates the following principles listed below. It is very similar to the MIND diet – a diet that combines the Mediterranean diet and a heart-healthy diet.

  • The Alkalizing diet avoids the foods that cause inflammation, including high amounts of processed food, refined carbohydrates, poor-quality oils, and high levels of salt.
  • The Mediterranean diet is alkaline in nature and avoids processed and refined foods; it is rich in vegetables and fruit.
  • Balance essential fatty acids of omega-3 and omega-6.
  • Phytate reduction to enhance better absorption of nutrients.

Go Organic

Evidence is increasing that the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables is closely linked to the quality of the soil they are grown in. Evidence is also increasing that non-organic foods are not the same as organically grown foods. Non-organically grown foods contain residues of herbicides and pesticides. Organic food contains significantly higher levels of polyphenols that are important for health.1

Favor These Foods

Pure Water. Drink plenty of pure water every day, preferably spring water or filtered water. As the filtering process removes many trace minerals exacerbating dehydration, it is essential that you add a supplement contain a full-spectrum of electrolyte-forming trace minerals to your water. Drink 1/4 cup of water at a time (when not exercising). This is the amount of water the kidneys easily absorb and process at one time. Excess water intake will stress the kidneys.

Carotenoids from vegetables and fruits. The largest percentage of the diet in terms of quantity, should be vegetables and then fruits. Focus on lots of dark leafy-green vegetables, other colorful vegetables, and a few selection of fruit daily. These vegetables are rich in carotenoids, especially lutein and zeaxanthin, which are the colored pigments that your eyes need to function well. These macular carotenoids are associated with cognitive function in pre-adolescent children,2 young adults,3 and older adults.4 These xanthophylls (a carotenoid found in yellow fruit and vegetables and the Mediterranean diet) have the ability to limit oxidation and inflammation and therefore improve cognition and reduce the risk of dementias such as Alzheimer’s.5Dietary sources of xanthophylls include lutein and zeaxanthin in green leafy vegetables and corn, and beta-cryptoxanthin in pumpkins, papayas, and peppers.

Whole grains for protein, fiber, and minerals. Whole grains supply protein, fiber, minerals, and some B vitamins (not B12). No single grain is healthier than any other. Each grain supplies a unique blend of nutrients. Therefore, enjoy a wide variety of whole grains. There is a good deal of debate as to whether organic and non-organic grains are equivalent, but there has been evidence that the quality of the soil in which grains are grown makes a difference. Whole grains are complex carbohydrates. They take a little longer to digest and help you maintain an even energy balance.

Herbs and spices. Use herbs and spices to completely or partially substitute for salt or sugar. They contain many phytonutrients such as carotenoids and polyphenols.

Nuts and seeds for healthy fats, protein, vitamins, minerals. Nuts and seeds provide healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals, including vitamin E, zinc, and essential fatty acids.

Fats. A diet high in healthy fats includes cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil for your salads and using low heat for cooking, as well as eating wild caught salmon, sardines, mackerel for example is recommended. Avoid using vegetable oils in cooking in high heat, and using saturated fats (such as coconut oil or butter) increases neurogenesis.6

Essential Fatty Acids. Omega-3s. The essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA are important for brain health as well as general well-being. DHA is critical for healthy brain function.7, 8, 9 Due to the easy availability of processed food in Western societies today, the consumption of saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids has greatly increased (as well as the significant increase in the amount of grains/carbohydrates eaten), while that of DHA has decreased. Increasing evidences suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids are important for cognitive functioning and memory10 especially in those people who are deficient in omega-3s.11

Reduce These Foods

A characteristic feature of most of the foods we suggest you limit or avoid is their ability to create inflammation in the body. As discussed earlier, scientists are coming to understand that systemic inflammation is a contributing cause to cognitive disorders, eye disease, and to most chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, lung issues, bone health, depression, cancer, and emotional disorders.12 These foods increase oxidative stress in the body. Overload of free radicals causes oxidative stress and plays a major role in the development of chronic and degenerative illness such as cancer, autoimmune disorders, aging, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Oxidative stress encourages excitotoxicity, increased free radicals, inflammation, and changes to synapses in development of Alzheimer’s13, 14 and Parkinson’s.15

  • Refined carbohydrates: white flour, grains, pasta, sugar
  • A high glycemic index diet
  • Sweeteners, of all types
  • Fats and fried foods
  • Processed foods, and foods with additives
  • Caffeine and alcohol in excess

The MIND Diet

The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet (MeDi) and the DASH (heart-healthy) diets. It differs from the MeDi only in that it includes foods that promote cognitive health. It slows cognitive decline found with aging16, 17 and provides better verbal memory in later life.18 It may help prevent or slow the development of Alzheimer’s,19, 20, 21 Parkinson’s,22 the rate of cognitive decline,23 and other cognitive impairments.24

Our healthy brain diet includes the suggested diet components of the MIND diet: green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, and poultry.

  • Green leafy vegetables: at least six servings a week
  • Other vegetables: at least one other vegetable every day
  • Nuts: just a few nuts, at least five times a week
  • Berries: especially blueberries, at least twice a week
  • Beans: at least three times a week
  • Whole grains: a variety of whole grains at every meal
  • Fish: at least once a week
  • Poultry (like chicken or turkey): at least twice a week

Next: Nutrients for the Brain


Note: additional sources of the above information are available in our guide to brain care, Natural Brain Care, or upon request.

1. Zalecka A, Bugel S, Paoletti F, Kahl J, Bonanno A. (2014). The influence of organic production on food quality - research findings, gaps and future challenges. J Sci Food Agric. Oct;94;(13):2600-4.
2. Saint SE, Renzi-Hammond LM, Khan NA, Hillman CH, Frick JF, et all. (2018). The Macular Carotenoids are Associated with Cognition in Preadolescent Children. Nutrients. Feb 10;10(2):E193.
3. Ramirez C, Lightfield K, Zuniga K. (2019). Macular Carotenoids and Cognitive Function in a Young Adult Population (FS04-07-19). Curr Dev Nutr. Jun 13;3(Suppl 1):nzz052.FS05-07-19.
4. Ceravolo SA, Hammond BR, Oliver W, Clementz B, Miller LS, et al. (2019). Dietary Carotenoids Lutein and Zeaxanthin Change Brain Activation in Older Adult Participants: A Randomized, Double-Masked, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Mol Nutr Food Res. Apr 5:e1801051.
5. Power R, Prado-Cabrero A, Mulcahy R, Howard A, Nolan JM. (2019). The Role of Nutrition for the Aging Population: Implications of Cognition and Alzheimer's Disease. Ann Rev Food Sci Technol. Mar 25;10:619-639.
6. Gleason CE, Fischer BL, Dowling NM, Setchell KD, Atwood CS, et al. (2015). Cognitive Effects of Soy Isoflavones in Patients with Alzheimer's Disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2015;47(4):1009-19.
7. Ruitenberg A, Kalmijn S, de Ridder MA, Redekop WK, van Harskamp F, et al. (2001). Prognosis of Alzheimer's disease: the Rotterdam Study. Neuroepidemiology. Aug; 20(3):188-95.
8. Barberger-Gateau P, Letenneur L, Deschamps V, Pérès K, Dartigues JF, et al. (2002). Fish, meat, and risk of dementia: cohort study. BMJ. Oct 26; 325(7370):932-3.
9. Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Tangney CC, Bennett DA, et al. (2003). Dietary fats and the risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Arch Neurol. Feb; 60(2):194-200.
10. Knochel C, Voss M, Gruter F, Alves GS, Matura S, et al. (2017). Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Repurposing Opportunities for Cognitive and Biobehavioral Disturbances in MCI and Dementia. Curr Alzheimer Res. 2017;14(3):240-254.
11. Cooper RE, Tye C, Kuntsi J, Vassos F, Asherson P. (2015). Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation and cognition: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Psychopharmacol. Jul;29(7):753-63.
12. Szalay, J. (2015). Inflammation: Causes, Symptoms & Anti-Inflammatory Diet. LiveScience. Retrieved from
13. Kamat PK, Kalani A, Rai S, Swarnkar S, Tota S, et al. (2016). Mechanism of Oxidative Stress and Synapse Dysfunction in the Pathogenesis of Alzheimer's Disease: Understanding the Therapeutics Strategies. Mol Neurobiol. Jan;53(1):648-661.
14. Tonnies E, Trushina E. (2017). Oxidative Stress, Synaptic Dysfunction, and Alzheimer's Disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2017;57(4):1105-1121.
15. Ganguly G, Chakrabarti S, Chatterjee U, Saso L. (2017). Proteinopathy, oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction: cross talk in Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Drug Des Devel Ther. Mar 16;11:797-810.
16. 9 Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Barnes LL, et al. (2015). MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimers Dement. Sep;11(9):1015-22.
17. Adjibade M, Assmann KE, Julia C, Galan P, Hercberg S, et al. (2019). Prospective association between adherence to the MIND diet and subjective memory complaints in the French NutriNet-Sante cohort. J Neurol. Apr;266(4):942-952.
18. Berendsen AM, Kang JH, Fedkens EJM, de Grout CPGM, Grodstein F, et al. (2018). Association of Long-Term Adherence to the MIND Diet with Cognitive Function and Cognitive Decline in American Women. J Nutr Health Aging. 22(2:222-229.
19. Van den Brink AC, Brouwer-Brolsma EM, Berendsen AAM, van de Rest O. (2019). The Mediterranean, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), and Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) Diets Are Associated with Less Cognitive Decline and a Lower Risk of Alzheimer's Disease-A Review. Adv Nutr. Nov 1;10(6):1040-1065
20. Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, et al. (2015). MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimers Dement. Sep;11(9):1007-14.
21. Koch M, Jensen MK. (2016). Association of the MIND diet with cognition and risk of Alzheimer's disease. Curr Opin Lipidol. Jun;27(3):303-4.
22. Agarwal P, Wang Y, Buchman AS, Holland TM, Bennett DA, et al. (2018). MIND Diet Associated with Reduced Incidence and Delay of Progression of Parkinsonism in Old Age. J Nutr Health Aging. 2018;22(10):1211-1215.
23. Ibid. Morris. (2015).
24. Dominguez LJ, Barbagallo M, Godos J, Garcia MM, Martinez-Gonzalez MA. (2019). Dietary Patterns and Cognitive Decline: key features for prevention. Curr Pharm Des. 2019;25(22):2428-2442.