Brain food: The best brain foods for maximum mental performance

Written by Kerstin Lakits, Feb 22, 2024

A student’s most important tool is surely their brain. Your brain is working hard when you are listening to your teacher in class, work on your study material or study for your next exam. So-called brain food can give your grey matter a boost, which is why you should include this food in your diet. In this article, we will explain what brain food is and which food is great nourishment for your brain. We also have some brain food recipes!

Brain food: What is it and what is it for?

Brain food, also called performance food, is healthy food which gives your brain cells a boost. Nutrition is the foundation for your brain to function properly and is also a happy mood boost. We listed foods that make you happy in a separate article!

For a smooth and efficient functioning of your brain, you need complex carbs, healthy fats, amino acids (proteins) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals). Only if you have a sufficient amount of these nutrients, does your brain have enough energy and your brain cells are fresh and usable.

Why do I need to pay attention to my diet?

By focusing on our diet, we can positively influence our general well-being and our health in the long run. A healthy diet can reduce the risk of developing certain illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s, heart attacks, diabetes, high blood pressure or strokes. Furthermore, you can improve your performance if you provide your body with all the important nutrients and trace minerals. If you include brain food into your diet, you can support your brain’s essential processes, including perception, memory, attention, problem-solving, reaction time and decision-making.

Overview: Great brain food

Food that benefits our brain is full of nutrients that improve your brain’s performance. In addition to water, your brain needs B vitamins, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, minerals and fibre. Here is a list of brain food.

1. Water: The most important element for your brain

Water is key! Without enough water, your brain cells will shrink and neurons won’t be able to function properly. If you don’t drink enough water, you may notice concentration problems, fatigue or headaches. That’s why you should drink 2.5 litres a day. If it is hot or you are sweating a lot, you should drink even more. It’s best to drink tap or mineral water without gas. Unsweetened teas are a great alternative for flavoured water!

If it is challenging for you to drink enough water, you could put a water bottle on your desk, prepare a full glass of water on your nightstand for the next morning or download an app that reminds you to drink water.

2. Healthy source of energy: Oats & more

Our brain consumes roughly 20% of the glucose in our body. Monosaccharides (found in sweets, candy, lemonades, dextrose, jam) is directly stored as glucose in our body, whereas polysaccharides (found in whole grain products, complex carbs, vegetables, legumes) is first transformed and then slowly released into the blood.

Especially in the morning, you should focus on complex carbs to avoid the well-known cognitive afternoon-slump. For example, brain food breakfast recipes, which support stable blood sugar levels, are overnight oats, porridge, and yogurt with whole grain muesli (reduced sugar) or whole grain bread. You should avoid chocolate bars, pastries and the like as a snack. Great brain food snacks include both complex carbs and protein. For example, brain food recipes for snacks are hard-boiled eggs and vegetables, vegetables with hummus or millet pudding with peanut butter.

These complex carbohydrates are a healthy source of energy:

  • Oatmeal
  • Wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta, wholemeal rice
  • Cereal flakes
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Potatoes
  • Vegetables

STUWO tip: Dextrose isn’t a great source of energy because it spikes and drops your blood sugar levels quickly. These changes in your blood sugar levels are a challenge for your body.

3. B vitamins for your neurons: Nuts & Eggs

B1, B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12 are also known as nerve vitamins because they are important for the metabolism of nerve cells. The myelin sheath of nerve cells is essential for the transmission of signals between neurons. These B vitamins support cognitive functions, protect cells from oxidative stress and contribute to the smooth functioning of our nervous system. A deficiency of the vitamin B complex can lead to exhaustion, fatigue, concentration problems and impaired memory.

Foods that are rich in B vitamins are:

  • Wholemeal products
  • Yeast
  • Peas
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Spinach
  • Endive, lamb’s lettuce
  • Avocado
  • Fish
  • Bananas
  • Milk
  • Cheese

4. Healthy protein for your memory: legumes, nuts & animal products

Proteins are not only important for muscle building in athletes, but also for the performance of your brain. Nuts not only provide you with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and important minerals as well as magnesium, sodium and potassium. They are also powerful antidotes against tiredness, nervousness and calcification of cerebral vessels. Legumes, i.e. beans, lentils and chickpeas, are great sources of plant-based protein. Eggs, meat and curd cheese provide you with animal proteins.

So try to include a source of protein in your meals. For example, you can add curd cheese to your overnight oats or porridge or make a chilli sin/con carne for lunch. For snacks in particular, you should opt for protein-rich brain food recipes, such as Greek yoghurt or an egg dish.

Protein-rich brain food is for example:

  • Legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas)
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products (e.g. curd cheese, Greek yoghurt, skyr, cheese…)
  • Nuts (hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts…)
  • Meat (chicken, turkey…)

5. Vitamins, minerals & fibre for a healthy brain: green vegetables, pears and pumpkin seeds

Foods with a high fibre content not only keep you full for longer, but also promote intestinal health and have a positive effect on your cognitive performance. High-fibre food groups include all whole grain products, fruit and vegetables.

Iron, calcium and magnesium are among the most important minerals and can be found in green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. At the same time, green vegetables provide a large portion of vitamin A, which is important for the functioning of our brain and nervous system. Preparing an easily digestible dinner with gently cooked green vegetables every now and then not only contributes to an athletic figure, but also supports your brain in its peak performance. In summer, a light salad with lots of green vegetables is the perfect dinner for your brain.

Brain food recipe: Add a few spinach leaves, cucumber or herbs to your smoothie! Small (!) portions of kale or lettuce are also suitable for smoothies.

Pumpkin seeds are real powerhouses and the best food for your brain, as they are rich in zinc, magnesium, iron and copper. These minerals support various brain functions. Pumpkin seeds provide you with micronutrients and are easy to incorporate into your diet. Simply add a few pumpkin seeds to your salad, homemade granola, yoghurt with muesli or wholemeal bread.

Pears are real brain activators and low in calories at the same time. In addition to all kinds of minerals and trace elements, just one pear covers seven per cent of our daily vitamin C requirement. Wash them well and it’s best to eat them with the skin on, as this is where most of the vitamins are found. Pears are generally less acidic than apples and are therefore also easy to digest for people who have to be careful with acidic foods. Pears make you happier. This is because they promote the production of happiness hormones such as serotonin. This makes it easier to cope with even the biggest exam stress or the shortest deadline.

Foods that provide you with various trace elements (vitamins, minerals and fibre):

  • Pears
  • Green vegetables (spinach, broccoli, cucumber…)
  • Lettuce
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Fruit
  • Wholemeal products

6. Fight stress with antioxidants: coffee, berries & tomatoes

Free radicals are unstable oxygen-containing molecules that can cause oxidative stress to our cells in the body. This can damage or kill cells and impair our receptors in the body. Our brain is then particularly susceptible to strokes, dementia and concentration problems. Berries are another secret weapon for our health and are particularly good for our brain, as berries have a lot of antioxidants. The group of antioxidants includes vitamins, minerals, trace elements, enzymes and secondary plant substances. These protect us from so-called free radicals and their negative effects on our organism. Snacking on berries supports the transmission of signals in the brain and can also counteract memory loss. From a botanical point of view, the tomato is also a berry and is therefore also a great brain food.

You can get lots of trace elements from foods such as sprouts and herbs, which you can easily include in your next lunch. Coffee not only helps you wake up after long hours at university, but also provides you with a lot of antioxidants, including flavonoids, chlorogenic acid, resveratrol and melanoidins. However, you should enjoy coffee in moderation to avoid side effects such as restlessness, insomnia, tremors and palpitations.

Food rich in antioxidants are:

  • All berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries…)
  • Tomatoes
  • Sprouts (lentil sprouts, sunflower seed sprouts, wheat sprouts…)
  • Nuts
  • Herbs and salad plants
  • Vegetables
  • Coffee

7. Omega-3 fatty acids against inflammation: fish, avocado & chia seeds

Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect and keep your nerve cells in the brain supple and healthy. Chia seeds are extremely high in omega-3 fatty acids and also have the ideal ratio (3:1) to omega-6 fatty acids. This is important for the formation of new cells and to support brain function. The high number of antioxidants, proteins, fibre and trace elements also speak in favour of these little miracle seeds. You don’t need more than two tablespoons a day (raw). Don’t forget to drink enough, as the seeds swell up a lot in the stomach. You can also use linseed as a regional alternative.

Brain food breakfast recipe: Chia pudding. Soak the small seeds in vegan or animal milk and leave in the fridge overnight. You can optionally mix in cocoa, vanilla powder or cinnamon and honey. This is also an ideal brain food snack for in between meals!

The avocado is rich in valuable vegetable fats, a real source of energy and contains a large amount of lecithin, which benefits our short-term memory. Avocados are the best food for the brain and you can easily use them as a guacamole dip for vegetable sticks, spread on wholemeal bread or as a creamy base for a smoothie.

Fish also provides you with lots of omega-3 fatty acids and is therefore perfect for brain food recipes for lunch. You should opt for oily sea fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, tuna or sardines. Always pay attention to the quality of fish.

Nuts are a great plant-based alternative to top up your supply of omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts are not the most popular brain food snack for nothing!

Foods that provide you with an extremely high amount of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Chia seeds
  • Linseed
  • Avocado
  • Fish
  • Nuts (especially walnuts)
  • High-quality vegetable oil (e.g. linseed oil, hemp oil, olive oil, walnut oil)

Conclusion: Brain food improves brain performance

A balanced and healthy diet is not only a key aspect of your health and well-being, but can also greatly improve your performance, concentration and memory. By incorporating brain food into your diet and trying out different brain food recipes, you can do something good for your brain. Complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals should be a permanent fixture on your menu! True to the motto: Eat the rainbow!

In addition to nutrition, physical exercise and addressing your mental health are also important for long-term good performance at university. So why not take a look at our other blogs such as jogging for beginners, home workouts, meditation for beginners and the perfect morning routine!


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