Keto-Friendly Brain Boosting Nutrients: Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Brain Boosting Nutrient: Omega 3

Whatever your reason for embarking on a ketogenic diet, you can further enhance its brain-boosting potential by incorporating foods and beverages containing nutrients which have the potential to benefit brain function, mood, and health. There is a growing body of evidence showing the ability of the brain’s fatty acid composition to be altered with long-term changes in the diet – this has a direct impact on mood and emotional behavior.

Because this is such a big topic, I’m going to break it down into a series of posts. In this series I’m going to cover five brain-boosting categories of nutrients that are readily available at your local supermarket, and, best of all, are ‘keto-friendly’.

And I’m going to start off with…Omega-3 Fatty Acids!

There is growing evidence supporting the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids on healthy brain development and aging. The three main omega-3 fatty acids are:

  1. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  2. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  3. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

Eicosapentaenoic acid

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) has consistently shown beneficial effects in treating mood disorders and has emerged as a new potential agent in the treatment of depression1While EPA and DHA have separate roles, they work synergistically and both are required to help every cell in the human body to function2. Ideally, both should be obtained from your diet, but supplements are certainly an option. Just make sure that your supplement contains a combination of both of these omega-3’s!

Docosahexaenoic acid

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain’s cell membranes, making it vital for brain development and function in both children and adults. DHA actually helps to stimulate the growth of brain cells in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center3. The inclusion of DHA-rich foods in the diet has shown to improve learning ability, whereas deficiencies of DHA are associated with learning deficits4.

The aging brain is more prone to the development of neurological degenerative diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and a number of studies have focused on the unique and beneficial role of DHA in the prevention of these disorders5. Trials studying the impact of individual omega-3’s on healthy aging, mild cognitive impairment, and dementia, suggest that DHA treatment shows the greatest promise overall in improving memory and learning in study participants6.

Sources of EPA & DHA include: fatty or oily fish such as salmon, sea bass, tuna, halibut, mackerel, herring, fish roe, anchovies, sardines, and pasture-fed livestock and poultry. Algae and algae/algal oil are also excellent sources of DHA.

Alpha-linolenic acid

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that has several protective effects on our body’s neurological health, in addition to its anti-inflammatory properties. ALA increases cell membrane fluidity and maintains or restores membrane function in undamaged and damaged cells, respectively7. ALA has also been shown to promote an increase in the number of nerve cells, or neurons, following brain damage, exhibiting a potential therapeutic role in stroke treatment8. In addition, results from ALA research suggest that higher blood levels of this essential fatty acid are independently associated with a lower risk of stroke in middle-aged men who are at high risk for cardiovascular disease.

Sources of ALA include: flaxseeds, hemp, chia seeds, and their oils, walnuts and walnut oil, avocado and avocado oil.

Next up on our list of brain-boosting nutrients: Polyphenols!


  1. Omega-3 fatty acids and major depression: A primer for the mental health professional https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC533861/
  2. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4404917/
  3. Docosahexaenoic acid and adult memory: a systematic review and meta-analysis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25786262/
  4. DHA Effects in Brain Development and Function: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728620/
  5. DHA May Prevent Age-Related Dementia https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2838628/
  6. Docosahexaenoic acid-concentrated fish oil supplementation in subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI): a 12-month randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22932777/
  7. Alpha-Linolenic Acid: An Omega-3 Fatty Acid with Neuroprotective Properties—Ready for Use in the Stroke Clinic? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4350958/
  8. α-linolenic omega-3 fatty acid for stroke protection: from brain preconditioning paradigm to nutrition: https://www.ocl-journal.org/articles/ocl/full_html/2011/05/ocl2011185p271/ocl2011185p271.html
Mary Paley

Fearless Dietitian; 30+ years as a professional dietitian; Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics at the MGH Institute of Health Professions; Lead research dietitian for several major pharmaceutical companies; Currently focused on health and wellness and the benefits of ketogenic diets for both obesity and diabetes management. MS, RDN, CDE, LD/N


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