Turn On Your Mindful Brain Power With the Right Foods

Specific foods actually enhance memory, emotional control, and problem solving.

Posted Jul 10, 2020

In full disclosure, I should mention that for many years I worked in an eating disorder clinic. Personally, it was not only a challenge working with patients who were very rigid in their thinking about food—it was also heartbreaking so see what a fixed mindset about food did to their lives and their bodies. 

Now, disordered eating—of which there are many types—is a complex issue often involving trauma, abuse, and family issues. But when patients start limiting their food choices (diets also sometimes do this in their own way) they can alter how the brain works at a fundamental level. This is especially true for anyone wanting to achieve mindfulness

It would be very difficult to attain the levels of mental clarity necessary for mindfulness if you lacked proper nutrition, in particular protein. That's because protein is an essential prerequisite for obtaining optimal cognitive functioning, concentration, and emotional regulation

Let's make it simple: 

The thinking and executive center of the brain needs protein every two to three hours.

Why is that, you ask? 

Protein matters because it breaks down into amino acids that are the building blocks for your neurotransmitters.

Keep in mind that there are different kinds of neurotransmitters—some boost attention, some improve mood and mental flexibility, and others enhance memory and thinking. Lacking these neuro‐transmitters can have a dramatic effect on your ability to concentrate, think and behave.

One example of this was Yvonne, a 35-year-old woman (note: names have been changed) who was having trouble concentrating, was irritable with her family, and was emotionally upset much of the time. During our first session, I learned that Yvonne would skip breakfast and drink coffee until early afternoon when she had her first meal.

After discovering that she had eaten peanut butter sandwiches in the past, Yvonne agreed to try an experiment for one week. She would eat a peanut butter sandwich in the morning and cut down on her coffee intake. When Yvonne came back the next week, she happily told me that her family noticed the difference in her mood and focus right away. I provided her with the food list below as a means of making sure she got enough protein.

This information includes very common foods—items that can be taken with you to use at work or during the day. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a start to keeping your thinking brain online and functioning at its best. 

Foods for attention and motivation

Neurotransmitters Norepinephrine and Dopamine: synthesized from tyrosine; sources include almonds, lima beans, avocados, bananas, dairy, pumpkin and sesame seeds.

Foods for calm, mood regulation, and thought flexibility

Neurotransmitter Serotonin: synthesized from tryptophan; sources include brown rice, cottage cheese, meat, turkey, peanuts, and sesame seeds.

Foods for thought and memory

Acetylcholine (not made from amino acids): Choline belongs to the B family of vitamins which is found in lecithin. Foods include salmon, egg yolks, wheat germ, soybeans, organ meats, and whole wheat products.

It’s also important to notice your patterns with regard to alcohol and caffeine. If you currently have a problem with alcohol, you need to address this. One thing about mindfulness is that it only works if we are honest with ourselves.

Mindfulness does not encourage us to hide from our habits, but to confront whatever is happening in our life so that we can get free from craving and addiction, as well as other unhealthy attachments and desires.

I hope you can use the above list to get the most out of your mental capacities, and support your mindfulness practice! These and other specific suggestions for the 5 Steps to G.R.E.A.T. Mindful Self Care can be found in my book Simply Mindful.