Whoops, we don’t support the browser that you are currently using.

For the best experience, please consider using Firefox Version 28 or newer. We also support Microsoft Internet Explorer Version 11, Microsoft Edge Version 12 or newer, Apple Safari Version 9 or newer, or Google Chrome Version 21 or newer.

You can browse the content of our site using an unsupported browser, but we can’t guarantee the site will work properly. If you want to obtain an online rate quote, calculate your needs online, fill out an application, or access the Account Section, you will need to download a browser that we support. We continually update our website so that it works best with the newer versions of “standard” browsers.

Thank you!

Feel Good Foods: The Diet-Brain Connection

Are you eating foods that promote brain health? Read on to find out.

The diet-brain connection

The diet-brain connection is a subject also referred to as nutritional psychiatry, the gut-brain connection, or "food and mood." It means that what we eat directly impacts our brains, and ultimately, our moods. The brain functions best when it is given high quality foods that nourish it, such as those containing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Certain foods act as an aid in the "prevention and treatment of mental disorders," like depression.1

Our diet's impact on mental health might also impact appetite control and gut health.1 Researchers have discovered that gut hormones are involved in the diet-brain connection.2 These hormones are sent from the gut to the brain and contribute to cognitive functioning.

The diet-brain connection is also crucial for the prevention of chronic illnesses. Most Americans' diets consist of high amounts of sugar, carbohydrates, calories, and fats, leading to diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, and obesity.1

Diet's contribution to cognition goes beyond memory and processing speed and significantly impacts brain development. "During the development of brain structures in prenatal and perinatal phases, it is important that all the necessary energy and nutrients can be absorbed from the diet."1

This means that diet's influence on the brain begins before birth, as the infant is nourished by the mother's nutrients, and this impact on brain development continues throughout childhood.

Feel-good foods

Foods beneficial to mood are considered "feel-good foods" or "brain foods."1 Below you will find foods that promote excellent brain health.

Fruits & vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are essential supplements for optimum health. They not only nourish the body but the brain as well. Their properties contribute to psychological well-being,3 cognitive processing, and emotional regulation.2 Some carry more psychological benefits than others, which can be challenging to remember. So, experts found it fit to establish a memorable way to ensure that children and adults consume a balanced intake of different fruits and vegetables.

Tip: "Eat the Rainbow" method

A dietary term referred to as "eat the rainbow" or "eat by color" is based on the concept that fruits and vegetables offer nutritional benefits depending on their color.3

For instance, purple and blue fruits and vegetables significantly benefit cognition and mood. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that 8 out of 10 Americans do not meet their daily requirements for all colors of vegetables and fruits.3 Purple and blue colors are the most neglected; 88% of people do not meet the appropriate daily consumption.3

Blueberries are a particular fruit that receives recognition as brain food. They exhibit cognitive benefits, especially throughout aging, during the stages of child development and cognitive decline.4 Their benefits are present even in small amounts. There are many other fruits, and veggies experts identify as brain foods.

Examples of purple and blue fruits and veggies are below:3


  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Purple grapes
  • Purple passion fruit
  • Plums
  • Prunes
  • Black currants
  • Elderberries
  • Figs


  • Eggplant
  • Beets
  • Ube (purple yam)
  • Purple cabbage
  • Purple carrots
  • Purple potatoes
  • Purple radish


Nuts carry nutrients that are beneficial for brain health. They also have anti-aging properties and help preserve cognition in older age.5 Researchers examined the influence of "long-term intake of nuts" on older women's cognition.

Interviews were conducted over the telephone to assess cognition (memory, verbal recall, attention, and fluency). The study included 15,467 women globally who were 70 or older between 1995 and 2001. Researchers found that those who consumed "at least five servings of nuts" a week had better cognition than those with lower nut intake.5

Walnuts are probably the most well-known brain-boosting nut because walnuts contain a lot of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) which are identified as "good fat." PUFAs are pertinent for heart health, as well as the functioning of the autoimmune system and nervous system—which operates the brain. Walnuts are also full of other phytochemicals (plant compounds), vitamins, and other nutrients that positively influence neurons in the brain.5

Fruits, vegetables, and nuts "are neuroprotective," "can improve cognitive ability," and "[the] intake [of these foods] may forestall cognitive dysfunction."6


The foods mentioned above are scientifically recommended for the general public. These foods may not suit you, possibly due to allergies, health concerns, or dietary restrictions. If you are concerned about implementing any food into your diet, speak with your physician before doing so. Also, remember that every diet isn't for everyone.

Find what is best for you and offers the benefits that you are searching for. It is equally important that you try not to judge yourself during transitioning into different dietary habits. Developing a new lifestyle habit is a process that takes time to establish. These foods can offer many benefits for your mental, cognitive and physical health, but it is difficult to incorporate every brain and mood-boosting food into your daily diet.

Therefore, it is essential to be practical when attempting to have a more well-balanced diet. Not every day will be fully packed with "feel-good foods," and you do not have to feel bad about that. Start slowly—try adding one feel-good food to one of your meals today. Maybe tomorrow, you try out a different feel-good food and see how that goes. Try to stay curious about what foods taste good, feel good, and work for you.

1 Ekstrand B, Scheers N, Rasmussen MK, Young JF, Ross AB, Landberg R. Brain foods - the role of diet in brain performance and health. Nutr Rev. 2021;79(6):693-708. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuaa091
2 Gómez-Pinilla F. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008;9(7):568-578. doi:10.1038/nrn2421
3 Minich DM. A Review of the Science of Colorful, Plant-Based Food and Practical Strategies for "Eating the Rainbow". J Nutr Metab. 2020. doi:10.1155/2019/2125070
4 Bell L, Williams CM. Blueberry benefits to cognitive function across the lifespan. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2021;72(5):650-652. doi:10.1080/09637486.2020.1852192
5 O'Brien J, Okereke O, Devore E, Rosner B, Breteler M, Grodstein F. Long-term intake of nuts in relation to cognitive function in older women. J Nutr Health Aging. 2014;18(5):496-502. doi:10.1007/s12603-014-0014-6
6 Miller MG, Thangthaeng N, Poulose SM, Shukitt-Hale B. Role of fruits, nuts, and vegetables in maintaining cognitive health. Exp Gerontol. 2017;94:24-28. doi:10.1016/j.exger.2016.12.014

©Dotdash Meredith. All rights reserved. Used with permission.