5 Unexpected Brain Foods
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I love the term “brain food.” It seems pretty well recognized in the mainstream and has a natural way of rolling off the tongue. We can all likely agree that feeding the brain some good food is a smart nutritional strategy. Of all the organs that could possibly go south on us, the brain ranks pretty high in terms of one we’d want to nurture and protect. Actually, I can’t think of another organ that we put the word “food” after. Few people talk about kidney food, spleen food, liver food, or intestine food. To this end, nutrition experts and enthusiasts wisely point out the virtues of brain foods such as: fish, walnuts, blueberries, eggs, lecithin, coffee; herbs such as ginkgo, and a long list of supplements and amino acids that have passed the test of modern clinical use for brain health. Who doesn’t want to improve memory, cognition, mental acuity, and brain plasticity?

In my opinion, it’s time to add some new brain foods to the list. I imagine the brain must be tired of eating so many walnuts and fish oil capsules. We need some new nutritional morsels for this all-important organ – foods that truly work and can give the brain its best chance at longevity and a high level of function. Here’s my list of 5 unexpected brain foods:

Brain Food #1 – Love

Love truly has a great wisdom – and wisdom is perhaps the highest expression of all brain potentials. It’s the flowering of consciousness. We’re conditioned to think that information is what makes the brain smarter – and it often is. But gobs and gobs of data being crammed into the brain just isn’t enough to evolve us and make us smarter. Did you know that there’s as much neural traffic from heart to brain as there is from brain to heart? The heart talks to us all the time. We just need to listen.

Love asks a lot of us, and the brain loves new pathways, new neural grooves, and new opportunities to express its neuroplastic nature. Love renews us. It makes us believe. It helps us see through fresh eyes. Love often has us do things that defy logic and makes us “lose our mind.” This is good news for the brain because our mind often tortures the daylights out of us.

Love is also the antidote to bigger things in life. Indeed, someone once said “make love not war.” If you really think about this, it’s brilliant. That’s because war, from a big picture perspective, is so primitive. It’s the worst thing for any organ system. It also destroys the fabric of the world and traumatizes the soul, all of which keeps humanity in an un-evolved state. Grow more love, serve it, feed it to others, and eat it up when it comes your way. Love is the #1 brain food. I dare you to prove me wrong.

Brain Food #2 – Pleasure

A close cousin to the brain food of love is pleasure. Pleasure is a literal and metaphoric brain food. Here’s what I mean: from the metaphoric perspective, pleasure makes the brain happy, it tickles us, and has us feeling all warm and fuzzy.  And every amateur scientist knows that such things make us long-lived and content. Furthermore, the brain is capable of getting turned-on. It gets all excited when something good comes its way, like a new idea, a new discovery, insight, or breakthrough. The brain is indeed hardwired for pleasure at the most fundamental level of our physiology.

From a more scientific perspective, the experience of pleasure generates a relaxation response – parasympathetic nervous system dominance. This physio-chemical state is the opposite of the stress response, which in excess bathes the brain in cortisol, creates inflammation and slowly degrades brain tissue and function. In other words, pleasure is the antidote to stress induced inflammatory responses. Pleasure literally detoxifies the brain. That’s a powerfully medicinal food.

Of course, choose your pleasures wisely – touch, intimacy, sex, dance, art, conversation, beauty, music, nature, and good food, to name a few. And for sure, you may want to add a few forbidden pleasures just to mix things up a bit.

Brain Food #3 – Novelty

Novelty is actually a very novel concept. Novelty means different. It means a playful newness, clever and fresh approaches, and unique experiments in our way of thinking and living.  Some examples of novelty – taking a different road home, letting go of words like “like” or “you know”, eating completely new foods, doing a new kind of exercise, dating a different kind of person, being nice to someone you’ve been mean to – that sort of thing. Novelty feeds the brain and makes it young again. It keeps us interesting. It evolves intelligence…

Indeed, novelty is what evolution is all about – it’s entirely new forms of life being thrust onto the stage of existence – just for the heck of it. Novelty means we’re alive on planet Earth and are willing and able to see things through fresh eyes and step out of habit. It’s a brain food that we can’t get enough of, and it fortunately has no calories.  Lastly, novelty is a brain food that’s easy to come by. Just ask yourself – what can I do to be more novel today? And from there, try this novel idea: just do it.

Brain Food #4 – Listening

Do you REALLY listen? Or do you sort of, kind of listen? Listen: I think listening is the most underrated brain food that there is. Too many people spend too much energy NOT listening, tuning out, or going back to sleep when we hear something that threatens our puny ego.

Listening makes the brain come alive. It wakes us up. Throughout history, most humanoids, if awakened in the late evening hours, indeed woke up because they HEARD something. And the more you hear, the more you know. And the more you know, the more your brain is a well-nourished and satisfied organ. And everyone wants a satisfied organ.

Listening is not only something you receive from the world, it’s also something you give to the world. Listening to someone, really listening, is one of the most generous gifts you can give to another brain. Haven’t you noticed your brain come alive when someone is really listening and taking you in? High quality listening is high quality nourishment for both brain and soul.

Brain Food #5 – Truth

If love is a staple food for the brain that can be consumed everyday, truth is like a superfood that even when taken in  small doses packs a big nutritional wallop. Truth puts the brain on alert. It asks the brain do some hard thinking and deep consideration. Truth elevates the brain from its lying ways, and asks the brain to be a kinder, better organ.

Truth changes the brain fast, and often in exciting and electric ways. Think of the times when you finally spoke the truth after holding it back for far too long. It was a rush wasn’t it? Truth is also a great brain food because it helps you lose a ton of excess weight – don’t you feel lighter when the truth finally comes out?

Truth can also teach us some powerful life lessons. That’s because our minds are often held captive. Our brains can be hijacked and controlled by outdated and knucklehead belief systems. Brains need to be set free. The truth shall do that.

The world is starving for truth. Hearts and minds are starving for it. And the truth is, I hope you’re thinking of a few ways you can be more truthful, and indeed take a risk and speak what’s real. How authentic are you? How real? How honest can you be?

And of course, I’d love to know some of your unexpected brain foods, the ones that really make the sparks happen for you.

Warm regards,
Marc David
Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014

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Love renews us. It makes us believe.

Listening is high quality nourishment for both brain + soul.

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  • Thank You Marc,
    Great list of nourishing mental foods to build active, curious minds and positive social interactions.
    Singing and dancing, walking and talking, reading and writing can also nourish our mind, body and spirit when we enjoy what we are doing.
    GBYAY Anne McGinnis Breen

    • Dorothy Lanasa

      I wish some ingenious one could make up a rating for foods, exercises, etc. Like take what you say about the brain and then there may be areas of overlap–eggs also help you lose weight, e.g. and then create this super number rating to find the best investments of time and food. You might need a super computer to do this, but I think that is what is a trend with some researchers that say, “If you eat these 5 foods/supplements, you will not get cancer.” I think this sounds very utopian, but I think this could simplify our life to make, let’s say, 50% of our choices outstanding helps to our health.

      • Hi Dorothy,
        You bring up so many good points! I think the more we rely on external lists of “good” and “bad” foods exclusively, we are denying ourselves a relationship with our own body wisdom. The truth is, everybody and every body is different. Ever hear the saying, one man’s panacea is another man’s poison? A great thing to do is to learn to listen to your body at all times. It’s very knowledgeable in fact. Food and nutrition fads come and go, but your body is always yours and always accessible for helpful insight.
        Thanks for joining in the conversation here!

        Best,
        Marc

    • Hi Anne,
      What wonderful additions!
      Thanks for sharing them with us.

      Best,
      Marc

  • Joanna Miller

    Wonderful list! I feel “fuller” already. Thanks Marc

    • Hi Joanna,
      So glad you think so —
      Always good to have a good appetite for these kinds of things.

      Regards,
      Marc

  • Marc, you have nailed it for me again. Thank you so much for this great article. It pulls it all together for me and tells me what my body, brain and spirit have been letting me know for all these years now. One of my books is called Spirit Expression for EveryOne, A Guide for Living a Soul-driven Life. This book is based on my meditation writings and focuses on the premise that we each have our own unique relationship with Spirit. When we can be in emotionally safe environments and have our “spirit expression” honored and valued, I believe that our heart, soul and now I see the brain, all are nourished and fostered to our highest expression.

    I loved the Telesummit. You are one of the best interviewers out there!

    Rev. Cathy Haven Howard

    • Hello Cathy,
      Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and connect with us here.
      Sounds like you’re doing wonderful work in the world.
      Thanks for all you do!

      Best,
      Marc

  • I love this!!!!

    My brain would have been fried a long time ago without oxytocin (which of course is related to #1, love). It’s a good thing I’m overly sentimental :).

    • Hi Debbie –
      Glad to hear love is keeping you strong!

      Warmly,
      Lindsay | IPE Staff

  • anth

    meditation

  • Bethany Kiele

    Thank you, Marc, for another lively and interesting discussion on the nourishment of the body. I am so appreciative of your fresh perspective. It’s always my pleasure to read the articles and ponder them for a while. Much of what I am learning from you is indeed speaking to the truths I may have been ignoring. In short your articles are great brain food!
    I would add appreciating to this list of brain foods. I find the practice of feeding my mind appreciative thoughts leaves me feeling greater joy and satisfaction.

    Thanks again!

    • Bethany,
      Good to hear from you —
      I’m so glad you’re getting some benefit from our discussions here.
      I love this idea of appreciation or gratitude.
      Definitely a profound brain food – thanks for sharing!

      Warmly,
      Marc

  • Neti Read

    Great article Marc! Even the best food choices are no good without these key ingredients! X

    • How true!
      Well said, Neti.

      Best,
      Marc

  • Marc, reading your list of “unexpected brain foods” made my gray matter extremely happy just now. (I can feel the synapses firing!) “Being delighted” is one of the brain foods I thrive on and your article was absolutely delightful.

    Although that neural response falls somewhere between pleasure and novelty, to me it’s “looking” for delight — expecting to be delighted — that distinguishes that mindset from merely observing or being surprised. Additionally, it means slowing down, savoring, pausing to consider (all of which you’ve advocated in past posts) in order to absorb those “nutrients” — and grinning alot! Thanks for your refreshing wisdom.

    P.S. I made a salad with mixed greens, blueberries, & toasted pecans for lunch today and my brain (and stomach) were perfectly satisfied. No, make that delighted! 🙂

    • Hi Kim,
      Delight is perfect!
      What a great one to add – thanks for your contribution.
      Grinning never hurts either.

      Marc

  • ruth liz

    Thank you Marc. You are always feeding your brain and in so doing you are feeding our brains too. And you write beautiful.
    Well, we all know that exercise: physical, like bicycling; mental, like taking new courses; spiritual,like meditating, are also wonderful to nourish the brain.

    • Hi Ruth,
      Thank you for your kind words – and all these good ones…
      Great additions to the list!

      Marc

  • Brinda

    Thank You!

    These are the most Under-nourished parts of the whole of humanity these days…and I agree that if we do not start straightaway, the future generations will never know the real taste of nurturing food and will end up gobbling GMO food and will take it for granted that this is the only way to survive…If we are to feel heavenly, then, we need to focus on how we are being fed from within as well as from the external nutrients that we digest…

    Being Alive means to be wholly aware, ready to dance, draw , sing, shout our uniqueness with joy, just like toddlers do in the most loving & giving way, a natural openness generously toppled with a passion for new discoveries…

    A million thanks…
    Brinda

    • Hi Brinda,
      I love this.
      Thank you for sharing and reminding us of our future common goals.

      Best,
      Marc

  • John McDonell

    Hi Marc,

    Thanks very much for this thought provoking article. I have to add peace as a constituent. Peace involves belonging to your environment/body, and a ritualized acceptance of how you ‘fit’.
    I realize that what I am saying will probably be misconstrued as mabmy-pamby, It is because of the extreme loneliness of my present lifestyle that produces such observations. I am a severally disabled elderly (66) single man. I can barely remember the last time I was invited to sit and share a meal/conversation. Most call this independent-living, but it feels very much as if I am supposed to be an ideal isolate.

    • Hi John,
      Thank for taking the time to reach and share your wisdom and perspective. You’re always welcome here in our community. And of course, “peace” as a brain food is perfect.
      Wishing you lots of it, and I hope you get the meal invitation that you deserve.

      Warmly,
      Marc

  • Daisy

    Great Post Marc! My brain ate up all your wise words! BURP!

    • Glad you found it so digestible, Daisy!

      Marc

  • Joanne Coleman

    I like this metaphor of brain food. You have listed five whereas I have come up with the “holy
    trinity” of truth, love, and joy. Truth is what you say. Love is not only love for the self and others, but passion about the things in your life that give you joy. Joy of course is appreciation of the wonder of being alive on this beautiful wonderful planet, and being able to participate in it. Joy is also the love of learning new things (novelty), of finding the truth once the shock of it has worn off. Truth leads to love which leads to joy which leads to truth which leads to love: the three sides of the triangle make the whole.

    • Hi Joanne,
      Beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing your perspective on these three essentials.
      Best,
      Marc

  • Hey Marc… I might add another brain food… Sleep! The difference between getting enough sleep and not getting it is dramatic in terms of brain function and brain ‘happiness’! Cheers – Rachel

    • Hi Rachel –

      Yes! Sleep is definitely worthy of inclusion. Bingo.

      Marc

  • Sandi Ashlock

    Laughter is my favorite Brain Food. It can be the worst of worst days, but if I can laugh at myself, or better yet, if I can make someone laugh, that is true Brain Food, and Heart Food, and Soul Food.

    Thank You. Sandi Ashlock

    • Hi Sandi,
      What a great addition!
      It’s definitely some powerful medicine.
      Thanks so much for your contribution.

      Marc

  • Michele Melloni

    HI Marc,
    Thank you for sharing these wonderful brain foods. I particularly resonate with Novelty. All too often I can easily get caught up in a routine that doesn’t stray much from the usual, and that’s when I notice a little sadness and maybe even depression coming on. Now I see it more clearly. I think Novelty is a great concept and an easier one to practice amongst the group. I will have fun changing things up more from now on, and when I improve and feel more nourished, I shall take on the other brain foods you mentioned one by one! Thanks for the tips!

    • Hello Michele –
      I’ve missed your words here! Thanks for sharing your experience with recognizing the need for novelty in your life.

      Best,
      Marc

  • Furtive Glancer

    You left out the single most important brain food: SLEEP! Sleep deprivation is a clinically proven cause of significant impairment to proper brain function. Sleep eight if you want to think great.

    • Amen to that! I was amazed to find out how common sleep deprivation is (about 30% of the U.S. workforce is estimated to be sleep deprived on any given day.)

      Getting enough sleep is clinically proven to boost creativity, amongst other benefits. I actually wrote a post about this not too long ago, including some helpful suggestions for getting the sleep you need: wildwomanswolfpack.com/sleep-and-creativity/

      • Hi Anne,
        Sleep goes hugely un-discussed in many circles of the health and wellness field!

    • Yes – it’s been mentioned in the comments – a very powerful brain food!

      Thanks for joining in!

  • People would be surprised if they truly tried to listen more! You can learn so much…

  • Great article, Marc! You are so very right on this – especially the importance of Love.

    • Anne –
      Thank you for joining in and sharing!

      Marc

  • Shelle

    Thank you. This is a great list. I would add massage, I think we are all touch deprived.

    • Shelle,
      This a great one. Touch – definitely of supreme importance.
      Thanks for contributing to our list.

      Best,
      Marc

  • Julie

    Hi Marc

    Thank you for a great article! I would also add laughter.

    Regards

    Julie

    • Hi Julie,
      Thanks for good feedback.

      Best,
      Marc

  • Dave

    Wow, this is a very timely blog to come across. I’ve been feeling really stressed out lately and I had a read through this blog post. I guess I need to go on a “Brain Diet” and start feeding myself some better foods rather than the junk foods like stress, worry and fear. Will be writing myself a little post-it note to remind myself to stay healthy haha.

    • Hi Dave,
      I’m sure there are lots of things we could choose instead for a more “balanced brain diet” – what a nice thing to do for yourself – avoid those mental junk foods!
      Thanks for sharing!

      Warm regards,
      Marc

  • Hi Marc,

    What a fun and useful blog post. I’ll definitely share this around and it has spurred me on to think of some activities for my coaching groups too. Thank you.

    I began to think of my list and added ‘forgiveness (for self and others), compassion – especially for self, and acceptance – as in absence of judgment. Then I realised these are perhaps more about the heart than the brain. Or maybe both, as we know how connnected and interdependent the mind and body are. Anyway forgiveness as we know is one of the highest vibrational states we can have and as such is releases a tonne of stresses and strains in our system. Comapassion allows us to be at one with others and again open ourselves. Acceptance and lack of judgment frees us up from the conditioning and habit of separating ourselves from others, labeling ‘good’ and ‘bad’, or ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

    I’d say the qualities or foods – should I say ‘quality foods’ that my brain loves are, along with your first 4 points, are laughter and curiosity. I think laughter is in there with your novelty and pleasure and love. Curiosity is also linked to novelty of course but I see it as more active and open. I love that state of curiosity!

    Since I see ‘truth’ is a term that can often be misused and misunderstood I haven’t included that but see an uncharged version of it present in acceptance, compassion and forgiving.

    Tahnks for a great article and for the opportunity to share.

    • Hi Derryn,
      You’re right on –
      Great contributions to the list!
      Thank you for taking the time to share your perspectives here with us.

      Warmly,
      Marc

  • Healthy Thoughts

    Thank you for sharing this post with us, it is a much needed post for many in today’s economy and world. Food, diet and exercise alone can’t help us we need to think happy thoughts and look toward a better tomorrow. We need to love one another and help each other, this can in fact increase our serotonin levels. Keep up the great work on your blog!

About The Author
Marc David
Founder

Marc David is the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, a leading visionary, teacher and consultant in Nutritional Psychology, and the author of the classic and best-selling works Nourishing Wisdom and The Slow Down Diet. His work has been featured on CNN, NBC and numerous media outlets. His books have been translated into over 10 languages, and his approach appeals to a wide audience of eaters who are looking for fresh, inspiring and innovative messages about food, body and soul. He lectures internationally, and has held senior consulting positions at Canyon Ranch Resorts, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation, and the Disney Company. Marc is also the co-founder of the Institute for Conscious Sexuality and Relationship.