I don't know if there's scientific proof for my theory that my brain works on 50 percent power during the holidays, but it definitely feels that way. The moment I started wrapping presents, every spare spot in my brain was occupied by thoughts of cinnamon spice cake and gluing together the ornaments my cat knocked off the tree. But once I began to seek out the best ingredients to get me back up to speed, I realized that there's more to what makes a brain food a brain food than I'd ever thought.
For example, I've always heard that salmon is great for keeping your mind sharp, but I never really understood what exactly about the bright-colored fish did the trick. It's pretty simple, though: Certain nutrients can nourish your brain directly, and knowing what to look out for in your food can help guide you.
"Many people are deficient in vitamin D3," Lisa Diers, a registered dietitian/nutritionist and yoga therapist who specializes in eating disorder recovery, tells Elite Daily. "Deficiencies affect calcium absorption, as well as the potential to lower mood, or in some cases, trigger depression," she explains. FYI: Salmon, canned tuna, egg yolks, shrimp, and dairy products are all rich in vitamin D3, Diers says, so enjoy them as much as you'd like.
Another key superstar in a typical brain food is omega 3, aka fatty acids that can benefit your mind both literally (as in it can help boost your memory), and by giving your mental health some extra support, too, according to Diers. "Boosting your intake of omega 3 can help improve your mood," she explains. For a healthy dose of omega 3, turn to salmon (again, a total powerhouse for the brain), tuna, scallops, sardines, walnuts, chia seeds, and edamame, suggests Diers.
As amazing as these nutrients are, though, they aren't everything when it comes to nourishing your brain through food. In fact, there's something about the power of brain food that involves not only literal nutrients, but your friends, family, whoever you surround yourself with when it's time to sit down for a meal. "Nothing in my clinical experience helps people feel happier or healthier than being connected and part of a community," Dr. Drew Ramsey, a psychiatrist and author of the book Eat Complete, wrote for Refinery29. "And that's really what the brain does, the brain is an organ of connection, and what connects us like food does?"
For this same reason, nearly all traditional holiday foods can benefit your brain in some way, says Suzanne Dixon, a registered dietitian with The Mesothelioma Center. "Nostalgia is a particular form of memory that often gives people pleasure," she tells Elite Daily. "It might feel like 'pining for the past' wouldn't make a person happy, but strangely enough, it does."
So as you enjoy festive meals with friends and family, remember that eating these foods isn't just part of a special tradition you hold close to your heart; it's really doing your brain and your body some genuine good. Leaning into those nostalgic vibes can even bring you physical warmth and comfort, according to a 2012 study published in the scientific journal Emotion. What's more, a 2015 study published in the academic journal Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences found that people who eat alone may be less likely to eat nutrient-dense foods than those who have company during their meals.
Bottom line: Reach out to someone you haven't seen in a while and grab dinner together. Your brain (and your taste buds) will thank you.