Food for the Brain


The escalation of mental ill-health represents one of the most concerning challenges in the 21st century burden of disease. The cost of mental ill health in the U.K. now outweighs that of heart disease or cancer, the two most prevalent common causes of death.  An article recently published in Lancet Psychiatry by members of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research argues that nutrition should be prominent in the treatment and prevention of mental disorders.  This Lancet Psychiatry article stresses the great importance of educating the public about the impact of diet and nutrition on mental health.4


Brain development, maintenance and function are greatly affected by the foods that we eat. It is essential that the diet during adolescence contains a broad range of nutrients that allow the brain to work at its optimum level. Nutrition not only impacts the ability to learn, but can also affect mental health. With anxiety and depression rising in the teenage population it is important to equip them and their parents with the knowledge to feed their brains properly. Educating adolescents about what an overall healthy balanced diet looks like and promoting this, along with key health messages about how nutrition can impact the brain, is vital.4


Studies observed a consistent trend for the relationship between good-quality diet and better mental health. A habitually poor diet (e.g., increased consumption of Western processed foods) is also associated with a greater likelihood of or risk for depression and anxiety.1


There are numerous potential biological pathways by which diet quality may have an impact on mental health in children and adolescents. For example, the

dietary intake of folate, zinc, and magnesium is inversely associated with depressive disorders, whereas dietary long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are inversely related to anxiety disorders. 1

Given that the average age of onset for anxiety and mood disorders is 6 years and 13 years, respectively, the potential for early intervention using strategies targeted at improving dietary intake at a population level may be of substantial public health benefit.1

“Higher seafood consumption omega-3 has been associated with lower rates of depression, post-natal depression or bipolar disorders.”

Our brains are 60% fats, the type of fat we consume in our diet is very important. Polyunsaturated fats (especially omega-3s) are vital components of cell membranes. This is called an essential fat, we lose approximately 5gm a day, if we don’t replace it in our diet we can see behavioural changes in brain function, potentially altering our concentration, mood, motivation and communication.

We should aim to consume oily fish twice a week and other fish once a week to achieve the levels of omega 3 required for optimal brain function. If you cannot eat or tolerate fish, a high quality pure fish oil supplement such as Bare Biology containing both DHA and EPA is essential.

“Lower levels of omega-3 and higher levels of omega-6 have also been associated with suicidal behaviour and anti-social/aggressive disorders, the latter in both criminal populations and wider society.”

Meal and Snack Ideas;


Smoked mackerel pate


Combine one packet of smoked mackerel with 2 dsp of half fat crème fraiche, squeeze of lemon juice and mash with a fork or blitz in the food processor.  This can be eaten with vegetable sticks as a snack, on toast for breakfast, on crackers for a snack or in sandwiches for lunch.

Wild salmon fishcakes


Remove the skin and bones from a 400g tin of wild salmon.  Crush one cup of cooked new potatoes and combine with the fish and a cup of cooked peas.  Use your hands to shape into fish cakes, coat in egg and fresh breadcrumbs and pop under the grill for 8 minutes on either side.

Pizza Salmon


Dress fresh wild salmon with a little pesto, fresh tomato sauce and some grated parmesan.  Pop under the grill for 10 minutes and its ready to serve.

Tuna and Sweetcorn sweet potatoe


Such an easy one, combine tinned tuna with a small tin of unsweetened sweetcorn, add 1 dsp of mayo and combine.  This can be used as a filling for sandwiches or jacket potatoes or use in a salad. Don’t over do it on tuna as it can contain high levels of contaminants such as mercury. Consume no more than once a week ideally.

Other ideas;

Add Anchovies to salads, pizza, and sandwiches

Use tinned mackerel, sardines and pop on crackers for easy healthy snacks

References and further reading;


  1. Relationship Between Diet and Mental Health in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review O’Neill

2.   Diet quality and mental health problems in adolescents from East London: a prospective study.

  1. A randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial investigating the behavioural effects of vitamin, mineral and n-3 fatty acid supplementation in typically developing adolescent schoolchildren 

  1. Institute for Food, Brain and Behaviour


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