Groundbreaking study shows diet’s direct impact on brain health

Not only does a poor diet affect our physical health, but it can also harm our mental and brain health.Picture: Vincent Rivaud /Pexels

Not only does a poor diet affect our physical health, but it can also harm our mental and brain health.Picture: Vincent Rivaud /Pexels

Published May 3, 2024


A RECENT study featured in “Nature Mental Health” has revealed that eating a well-rounded diet can boost brain health, sharpen mental functions and elevate moods.

Conducted by a team at the University of Warwick, the research highlights the critical impact of our dietary choices on both physical and brain health.

By examining the eating habits of 181 990 individuals from the UK Biobank and conducting various health assessments such as cognitive tests, blood work, brain scans, and genetic analysis, the study offers fresh perspectives on how our food intake affects our overall health.

Participants’ food preferences were gathered through an online survey and categorised into 10 groups, including alcohol, fruits, and meats.

The researchers then employed a sophisticated type of AI, known as machine learning, to sift through the expansive data.

Results showed that a nutritious diet is linked to improved mental health, better cognitive ability, and greater brain volume, particularly in regions associated with intelligence.

This was especially noticeable when compared to those on more limited diets.

The findings further stress the importance of making gradual changes to one’s diet, especially for those used to consuming high-sugar and high-fat foods.

By slowly cutting back on these, it becomes easier to naturally lean towards healthier eating habits.

Scientists have discovered that our genes might play a role in how diet affects our brain health, suggesting that both our DNA and our eating habits influence our overall well-being.

Professor Jianfeng Feng from the University of Warwick, the study's lead researcher, highlighted the importance of forming good eating habits from a young age. “It's vital to start eating a healthy and balanced diet early in life,” he stated.

“Not only does a poor diet affect our physical health, but it can also harm our mental and brain health.”

The study shines a light on the Mind diet, a way of eating that combines the best parts of the Mediterranean and Dash diets to benefit brain health. This diet has been recognised for its ability to significantly reduce Alzheimer’s disease risk and slow down mental decline.

It encourages eating foods like berries and leafy greens, which are high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, helping to guard against the brain damage that leads to cognitive decline.

Furthermore, the Mind diet promotes heart health by advocating for the consumption of whole grains, fish, poultry and olive oil.

These foods contribute to cardiovascular health, which in turn, supports brain function by ensuring a good supply of nutrients and oxygen.

This diet also assists in managing weight and preventing diabetes by promoting the consumption of whole rather than processed foods and favouring a plant-based diet. This addresses important factors in reducing the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Maintaining brain health is crucial for overall well-being and cognitive function, especially as we age. Science has identified several foods that are beneficial for the brain due to their nutrient profiles.

Here are some of the top foods recommended for brain health:

Fatty fish

Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as DHA, fatty fish like salmon, trout, and sardines are essential for brain health. Omega-3s help build brain and nerve cells, which are crucial for memory and learning. They also may reduce age-related mental decline.

Omega-3s help build brain. Picture: Towfiqu barbhuiya/Pexels


Berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries, are high in antioxidants like flavonoids, which may delay brain ageing and improve memory.

Berries contain flavonoids which delay nerve damage.

Nuts and seeds

A source of healthy fats, antioxidants, and vitamin E, nuts and seeds can improve brain health. Vitamin E shields cell membranes from free radical damage, potentially slowing mental decline.

Nuts are a source of healthy fats, antioxidants. Picture: Marta Branco/Pexels

Whole grains

Foods like oatmeal, brown rice, barley, and whole-wheat bread provide vitamin E and fibre. Whole grains help regulate blood sugar levels, providing a steady source of energy for the brain.

Whole grains help regulate blood sugar levels. Picture: Vie Studio/Pexels

Leafy green vegetables

Vegetables such as kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are rich in brain-healthy nutrients including vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta-carotene. These nutrients help slow cognitive decline.

Leafy greens contain nutrients that help slow cognitive decline.Picture: Nataliya Vaitkevich/Pexels

Incorporating these foods into your diet can promote brain health and support cognitive function, especially when eaten as part of a balanced and healthy diet.

It's important to remember, that no single food is a silver bullet for brain health; a varied diet combined with regular physical activity and mental exercises is most effective.