The food you eat affects your brain - What you eat affects your brain with a long-lasting effect. So which foods cause you to feel tired after lunch or restless at night? Take a ride into your brain with Dr Farrukh M Sheikh

What you eat affects your brain


What is the brain made of?

What you eat affects your brain with a long-lasting effect. So which foods cause you to feel tired or restless at night? Take a ride into your brain with Dr Farrukh M Sheikh. 

If we were to remove all the moisture (about 75% of the 3 lbs or 1.4 kg of the total weight) from the brain, the brain is left with:

  • fats (also called lipids or cholesterol)
  • proteins
  • amino acids
  • glucose
  • micronutrients

Each component has a distinct role to play in functioning, development, mood and energy. If you are feeling energetic or lethargic, it could be the effects of the food you had.

Fats - Omega 3 and Omega 6 are the superstars

These essential fatty acids have been linked to the prevention of degenerative brain conditions. They can only come from our diets, so eating Omega rich food like:

  • nuts
  • seeds and
  • fatty fish

is crucial to the creation and maintenance of cell membranes. 

While Omega fatty acids (Lipids) are good for your brain, Trans fats may damage your brain health. 

Trans fat is double trouble for your heart health

Trans fat increases your "bad" cholesterol and lowers your "good" cholesterol. Find out more about trans fat and how to avoid it, according to Mayo Clinic.

Foods that still contain tans fats:

  • Baked goods, such as cakes, cookies and pies
  • Shortening
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Frozen pizza
  • Refrigerated dough, such as biscuits and rolls
  • Fried foods, including french fries, doughnuts and fried chicken
  • Nondairy coffee creamer
  • Stick margarine

Amino Acids and Proteins

After the fats, most of the weight of your brain is made up of proteins and amino acids. 

The proteins and amino-acids are the building block nutrients for growth and development. 

Proteins and amino acids influence how we feel and behave.

Amino acids contain the precursors to neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that carry signals between neurons affecting:

  • sleep
  • mood
  • attentiveness and
  • weight

Amino Acids may be one of the reasons why we might feel calm after eating a large plate of pasta or more alert after a protein-rich meal.

Norepinephrine, Serotonin and Dopamine.

The complex nutrient combinations in food can stimulate the brain cells to release mood-altering norepinephrine.

Norepinephrine is a naturally occurring chemical in the body that acts as both a stress hormone and neurotransmitter (a substance that sends signals between nerve cells). It's released into the blood as a stress hormone when the brain perceives that a stressful event has occurred.

Serotonin is the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. This hormone impacts your entire body. It enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other. Serotonin also helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion.



Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter. Your body makes it, and your nervous system uses it to send messages between nerve cells. That's why it's sometimes called a chemical messenger. Dopamine plays a role in how we feel pleasure. It's a big part of our unique human ability to think and plan.

But getting these nutrients to your brain cells is tricky.

And Amino Acids have to compete for limited access.

A diet with a range of foods helps maintain a balanced combination of brain messengers. 

A balanced diet keeps your mood from swinging too much in one direction or the other.


Like the other organs in our body, our brain benefits from the constant supply of micronutrients. 

  • B6 (also known as pyridoxine)
  • B12
  • Folic acid (also known as B9 - man-made version of vitamin Folate)

B6 helps:

  • the body to use and store energy from protein and carbohydrates in food
  • the body form haemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body.

Good Sources of B6:

  • pork
  • poultry, such as chicken or turkey
  • some fish
  • peanuts
  • soya beans
  • wheatgerm
  • oats
  • bananas
  • milk

B12 helps

  • make red blood cells and keeping the nervous system healthy
  • release energy from food
  • use folate

Good sources of B12

  • meat
  • fish
  • milk
  • cheese
  • eggs

Folic acid (B9) helps:

  • help your unborn baby's brain, skull and spinal cord develop properly to avoid development problems (called neural tube defects) such as spina bifida
  • help reduce side effects from methotrexate, a medicine used to treat severe arthritis, Crohn's disease or psoriasis

Dr Sheikh adds:

Certain vitamins and supplements can be harmful if taken without the advise of a doctor or nutritionist. For instance:

  • excess vitamin C and marginal calcium can contribute to osteoporosis
  • excess vitamin C can also cause a decrease in immune response. 
  • a deficient intake of one element can allow toxic accumulation of another.
  • high phosphorus and calcium levels lead to dangerous calcium deposits in blood vessels, lungs, eyes, and heartOver time this can lead to increased risk of heart attack, stroke or death. Phosphorus and calcium control are very important for your overall health.


Antioxidants in fruit and vegetables strengthen the brain to fight off free radicals which destroy the brain cells.

Micronutrients enable to brain to function well.

Without the powerful micronutrients like B6, B12 and Folic Acid our brains would be susceptible to brain disease, mental health and memory loss. 

Trace Minerals

  • iron
  • copper
  • zinc
  • sodium

Trace amounts of mineral, iron, copper, zinc and sodium are fundamental to brain health, early cognitive development and IQ.

Healthy Nutrients in the right combination

In order for the brain to function and synthesize efficiently, it needs a steady supply of fuel. While the human brain only makes up 2% of our body weight, it consumes 20% of our energy resources.


Most of the energy requirements of the brain are provided by carbohydrates. Our body digests carbohydrates and converts them to glucose or blood sugar.

The Frontal Lobes of the brain

The frontal lobes are so sensitive to the drop in glucose that a minor change in the mental function is a primary signal of nutrient deficiency. 

Carbs come in three forms

  • Starch
  • Sugar
  • Fibre

The Nutrition labels are misguiding

Most nutrition labels lump all carbs in one total carb count. This is misleading. The ratio of the sugar to fibre sub groups to the whole amount affects how the body and brain respond.

The high glycemic foods - fast glucose release

The high glycemic food like white bread  causes a rapid release of glucose into the blood and then comes the dip.

When the blood sugar dips

When the blood sugar dips, so does our mood and attention span.

The low glycemic foods - slow glucose release

  • oats
  • grains
  • legumes

These food products slowly release the blood sugar into the blood, enabling a steady level of attentiveness and energy.

How to achieve a sustained brain power

  • Your choice of food has a direct and lasting effect on your body and brain
  • What you eat also affects your mood and how you feel
  • Consume a variety of nutrient-rich foods to supply balanced nutrients to your brain.


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