The brain has many nutritional requirements to perform its roles. In terms of energy, the brain needs glucose, which is easily metabolized from carbohydrates. In terms of protection, the brain needs various vitamins and antioxidants. In terms of performance, still other vitamins and fatty acids are required. The best brain foods contain many of these important nutrients in an easily digestible form.
Whole-grain Breads: Cooked and ground whole grains, such as wheat, oatmeal, barley and millet, are healthy carbohydrates that can be digested quickly to yield glucose sugar. A convenient way to consume whole grains is as baked breads, although crackers and cereals can be just as nutritious. According to "Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism," glucose is the main fuel for the brain, and at least 100 g of carbohydrates need to be eaten daily to provide enough glucose to power brain functions. Whole grains are also good sources of B vitamins, selenium and soluble fiber. Soluble fiber can regulate blood cholesterol levels, which reduce the risks of cardiovascular diseases and brain injury, such as stroke.
Fatty Fish: Fatty fish -- such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines -- are not only rich sources of protein, B vitamins and calcium, but also essential fatty acids. Perhaps the most important fats are omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain and nervous system function. According to "Biochemical, Physiological and Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition," omega-3 fatty acids are required for myelin synthesis; myelin is the protective sheath around nerves that allows for speedy flow of brain impulses. Further, omega-3 fatty acids play crucial roles in behavior and cognition; deficiencies have been associated with depression, dyslexia and attention-deficit disorders.
Antioxidant-rich Berries: Blueberries are especially rich in antioxidants, which act to protect blood vessels and the brain from the oxidative stress created by free radicals. One of the antioxidants is vitamin E, which can combat age-related loss of cognitive abilities. A study published in a 2005 edition of "Nutritional Neuroscience" found that diets rich in blueberries significantly improved the learning capacity, memory and motor skills of aging rats. Further, the anthocyanins in blueberries were found to promote new neuron growth in the amygdale region of the brain.
Nuts and Seeds: Many nuts and seeds are good sources of protein, minerals, vitamin E, omega-6 fatty acids and some essential amino acids. As an example, pumpkin and sesame seeds are both rich in tyrosine, the amino acid required for dopamine synthesis. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and coordinates movement. Many nuts and seeds are good sources of B vitamins. According to "Vitamins: Fundamental Aspects in Nutrition and Health," vitamin B-6 is needed to produce dopamine and serotonin, which are both essential for communication between neurons. Folic acid is needed by the brain to maintain memory and concentration. Vitamin B-12 is associated with higher brain functions, and its deficiency leads to symptoms very similar to Alzheimer's disease. Examples of particularly healthy nuts and seeds include walnuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, flaxseeds and sunflower seeds.