Feed Your Body, Feed Your Brain: Nutritional Tips to Speed Recovery

Mary Ann Keatley, PHD, CCC and Laura L. Whittemore, Brain Injury Hope Foundation
Feed Your Body, Feed Your Brain: Nutritional Tips to Speed Recovery

A healthy diet during the recovery from a brain injury is highly beneficial. Scientists know that deficiencies in certain nutrients and chemicals can cause disruptions in brain functioning and the ability to think clearly. The brain uses calories to function. When someone sustains a brain injury, it is necessary to eat enough nutritional calories to help the brain function efficiently.

Nutritional Tips for Head Injuries

  • Eat small meals every three to four hours.
  • Keep small baggies of healthy snacks with you during the day to boost your energy, such as nuts, trail mix, apples, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and energy bars. Ask a member of your family or support group to make these for you and put them in a small cooler to take with you when away from home.
  • Balance small meals with a combination of protein, healthy fats and oils, and carbohydrates. Proteins include fish, lean meats, nuts, and eggs. Healthy fats and oils can be found in avocados, seeds, and nuts. Carbohydrates are found in vegetables, fresh fruits, and grains. Avoid eating carbohydrates by themselves if you have blood sugar concerns. Many individuals report that sugar and chocolate increase headaches, so eat sweets sparingly.
  • Eat moderately. Do not overeat as it can cause you to feel sleepy.
  • Eat by the clock. If your brain/body signals are not working well, set a timer, watch alarm or a mobile phone to alert you that it’s time to eat.
  • Since weight gain is common following brain injury, this is another reason to stick to a healthy diet.
  • Try to eat around the same time every day. The body does best when it is on a routine schedule.

Grocery Shopping and Menu Ideas

Shopping and preparing meals take a lot of energy. The grocery store is a very difficult environment when you have a head injury because of the lights, visual stimulation, and sounds.

  • A magnetized notepad posted on the refrigerator is a time saver for writing down the food items to get during your next shopping trip. Photocopy a shopping list that you use regularly and circle the items you need to purchase during your next shopping trip. If you go to the same store each week, plan your list to follow the order of the aisles. For example, fresh foods usually line the walls or periphery of the grocery store, with packaged, canned, and frozen foods in the center aisles. This will help you conserve energy so that you won’t have to make trips back and forth across the store.
  • If you must go to the grocery store, try to choose a time when it is less crowded and less noisy. In the beginning, enlist the help of neighbors or friends to pick up the items on your shopping list when they are making a trip to the grocery store.
  • If you are sensitive to noise and light, wear earplugs or filters and/or tinted glasses when shopping.
  • Shop when you are well fed. You will make smarter food choices when you are not starving and your focus and attention will be sharper.
  • Develop a list of your favorite fast, easy meal ideas. Keep this posted on your refrigerator or inside a cupboard door for easy access.
  • Keep menus simple—avoid recipes with elaborate steps or unusual ingredients that aren’t familiar to you.
  • When preparing meals, always make extra to store in the refrigerator for the next day or two, or to put in the freezer. Put portions of foods into plastic or glass containers, and cover them with lids or plastic wrap.
  • Throw protein foods out after three days in the refrigerator. Always practice safe food handling. Visit http://www.foodsafety.gov for further information.
  • After a brain injury some people lose their sense of smell, and it is very important to be alert to the expiration dates on food.

What About Vitamins and Supplements?

There are many books and articles in magazines and on the Internet with tips and ideas for a healthy diet. It is highly recommended that fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, meats and grains are superior to processed foods and build the immune system. In addition, the following list of suggested supplements may help complement and enhance your nutritional intake.

  • Multivitamins can supply the basic vitamins and supplements that your diet may be lacking.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids counteract free radicals that cause oxidative damage to brain cells and may help improve nerve signal transmission at synapses.
  • Probiotics is a beneficial bacteria that helps maintain a healthy intestine and aides in digestion.
  • Antioxidants which include vitamins C, E, and beta carotene counteract oxidative damage caused by certain foods, and the stress caused by brain injury.
  • Brain Vitale is a product that combines two beneficial brain nutrients which help repair neurons—phosphatidyl serine and acetyl carnitine.
  • Coenzyme Q10 is a natural antioxidant that is necessary for the basic functioning of cells.
  • Phosphatidyl serine (PS) aids in the proper release and reception of neurotransmitters in the brain and helps with memory.
  • Acetyl L-carnitine plays a key role in fatty acid oxidation and is used to improve memory.
  • B vitamins boost metabolism and effect brain and nervous system functioning.
  • GPC — glycerophosphocholine helps to sharpen alertness, reasoning, information processing, and other types of mental performance.

Consult a nutritionist or health care provider for an individualized program of supplementation. By eating well, you are developing a good foundation for recovery of your body and brain.

Foods to Avoid

Try to avoid the following foods:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Salty foods
  • Excessive sweets and candy


You may find that if you drink alcohol following your injury, it may have a stronger effect than before because your tolerance level has changed. Alcohol may interact with prescription medications. Some people may turn to alcohol or other addictive substances to medicate themselves for physical or emotional pain. “It has been said that there should be no bottom line here. The use of these drugs in an already disrupted physiological system will further induce neurological and cognitive decline. They should be avoided by survivors of TBI.1



1  Jay, G. 2000. Minor Traumatic Brain Injury Handbook: Diagnosis and Treatment. New York: CRC Press.

Posted on BrainLine December 7, 2010. Reviewed July 25, 2018.

From Understanding Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: An Insightful Guide to Symptoms, Treatments, and Redefining Recovery by Mary Ann Keatley, PHD, CCC and Laura L. Whittemore. © 2010 by the Brain Injury Hope Foundation. Used with permission. www.braininjuryhopefoundation.org.

Comments (41)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

Nice article. But in this Pandemic, People are now more conscious about their health and what they eat. Quinoa is rich in very high fiber and thousands of nutrients. It is more effective in boosting the Immune system

Not everyone is so fortunate or capable of providing themselves the nutrients we need. It's more a social dilemma then there is a lack of good food. Lack of help lack of means. Lack of caring. We were as safe before the pandemic as we are now. You risk your life everyday by getting out of bed in the morning. Each day is just picking how you want to risk it. Healthy or not.

Great article. I had a TBI 3 years ago. Ever since my sense of smell is about 90% gone. I can't tolerate very salty food. I do like sweets especially ice cream and pudding. I lost 35 pounds while in the hospital, but gained weight once i got home and have now passed my ideal weight by about 15 pounds. I am trying to cut carbs, increase protein and exercise more.

My boyfriend fell 20 ft and hit his head on June the 20th, 2018, ever since he’s suffered from constant headaches, fatigue and could hardly keep down any food except for salads, banana and potatoes. In the past week or so he hasn’t been able to keep anything down. Any advice on what would help would be greatly appreciated.

Brooke, you should get your BF to his doctor. See if you can get some anti nausea medication. Also, is he dizzy or have vertigo? Perhaps that is working into this too?

Some ideas for food, would be protein shakes. You could add in some blue berries, which are great for brain recovery. You could add in ginger to his diet, ginger chews are avail on Amazon and sprite to settle his tummy.

I couldn't resist commenting. Well written!

I have lived with TBI for over 70 years. Symptoms may go quiet for months or even years and then kickup - each time different, so that getting medical help can be difficult. It seems that when hallucinations or sensory difficulties begin, that my nutritional needs must change. I would rather not take meds, but deal with this nutritionally. Anyone have any suggestions as to supplements or food? Thanks.

I had a TBI over 20 years ago and am still feeling the efffects, but has massively improved since I woke from a coma. Personally I find that eating meat, especially red meat very much slows me down and will try going vegetarian for a period.

I fell down 15 feet and hit the head. It happened 5 months ago. I was not able to walk and has no memories on the first week . I am still having headaches, no smell and taste, hearing issues and memory issues. I am worried why doctored did not prescribe these vitamins and nutrients. I am going to try out these definitely.

Enjoying reading the article and comments. My daughters partner has recently had a TBI and is struggling with cognitive function. I've just started doing some research on supplements & nutrition. I've had a nutrition shop suggest Fish Oil with the DHA in it and a natural food supplement. My daughers partner wasnt big on chemical medication before the accident and so is happy so far to take organic options. The hospital has put him on Epilim as a preventative for seizures and for the mood swings. Hes got the mood swings, but as yet, hasnt had a seizure. He's in the Army and this week is transferring to the base hospital and i'm hoping it will be easier to work with the defence Drs on the nutrition side of it, than it is the hospital. If anyone has come accross an alternative for seizure prevention i would be interested in it.

Dr. Rahul Jandial - neurosurgeon.

Hello, a lot of research has gone into treating seizures with cannabis. Usually it is a high CBD /low THC strain. Reach out to doctors or a specialist that know the benefits of cannabis. I myself am a TBI survivor, and vaping CBD makes life bearable.

I also had a TBI over 20 years ago and have found taking apple cider vinegar everyday very much helps me deal with life. It also boosts my immune system, which is a bonus. Once I woke from a coma I had to learn how to walk and talk again, which was rather a laborious process, that took a long time. But I have found taking beater blocker ACV and Ibuprofein daily helps me to be the best I can be.

CBD and other marijuana based medical products are the safest, non-addictive treatment for seizures; they also help with nausea and headache. Although the army will not give it to him due to federal laws, medical marijuana treatments are the best form of medication for this person (with the lowest risk). Good luck, I hope it turns out well.

Epsom salt -magnesium about 1 teaspoon in fruit juice once a day will help. 95% vegetables- slightly cooked I.e broccoli, carrots, beetroot, spinach and little portions of good carbs- wild rice, sweet potatoes etching. Sardines or tuna daily at least one tinned rinsed in cold water to form part of diet. Bake rolled oats in the oven and put in a jar. Take 3 to 4 heaped spoons, 100g of blueberries, 2 heaped spoons of sunflower seeds, a few pecans & walnuts, 3 dates, 1 spoons of baobab powder & Greek or natural yoghurt. This is a powerful breakfast/medicine for the brain. During the day organic Apple cider water- 2 tsp in a glass of water to alkaline the body. Vitamin E foods. No junk food, alcohol or fizzy drinks. I am talking ftom an informed position after 4 years of doctoring my husband out of cerebral Edema & seizures

Can several concussions over the years be "mistaken" now for early Alzheimer?


Great topic, nutrition is not talked about enough when it comes to brain injury. In Fact there are many advantages of a healthy nutrition lifestyle not just for brain injury. Clint Pearman

I had a head injury several month ago. Since then I've been having regular headaches, mood swings (If I get angry, I get really angry), I'm forgetful, constantly tired and I can't sleep (that's when I think about the people who assaulted me and regret it wasn't me beating brains out of them). Actually I think you should include some stuff for bad temper in the recommendation, like magnesium or hops, because (at least for some people) being constantly angry is a problem.

Good post about the tips for body health, But I want to suggest some updates, As you can read more, how to feed your body right

Good book for nutritional healing after a TBI is, "Nourish Your Noggin! Brain-Building Foods & Easy-To-Make Recipes to Hasten Your Healing from Mild Traumatic Brain Injury." Good reviews on Amazon. 


Having had a TBI & now diagnosed with MS the information is very helpful-thank you!

I like the Jarrow Brand supplement "Neuro Optimizer"  it contains many of the things you list in your article.  

I suffered a severe brain injury in 1999, and was in a coma for 5 weeks+. Only a few weeks ago I started taking krill oil and the difference its made to my outlook and mental alertness is superb.I don't know why a doctor didn't suggest it during the initial recovery period.

I am amazed that the use of Fish oils and Primrose oil is not regularly recommended to people recovering from brain injury. The essential oils from fish or krill, which are docosahexaenoic acid andeicosapentaenoic acid, as well as linoleic acid from Evening Primrose or Borage oil, are often used for their effects of enhancing mental status among people who have ADHD or other conditions that affect mental functioning. Dosage should be high, especially for brain recovery. These oils make a huge difference to people who have had a poor diet.
Use a lot of them. Dosage recommendations are hard to find because the manufacturers don't want to recommend high doses -- it makes them look like they are pressing their customers to spend more money. I recommend the equivalent of 10 or 12 grams of fish oil, which may not actually require 10 or 12 capsules, because several manufacturers are marketing concentrated products. And for Primrose oil, I recommend between 3 and 6 grams a day. Start at a lesser dose and take it up as you can bring yourself to eat all those capsules. They won't hurt you -- there are no negative effects, except that too much Primrose or Borage oil too quickly make cause a loose bowel. (Linoleic acid makes one's reflexes work better, and the first reflex it affects are the reflexes of the bowel !)
It is only reasonable to use these supplements if you are recovering from a brain injury, but they are conspicuously missing from the advice available on forums such as this. They are also absent from the treatment plans some of my clients have reported from brain injury clinics they have attended. I find this odd. I would hate to think that the medical profession is so removed from reality as to not recognize the benefits of fat supplements for nutrients that the human body cannot make. (That's why these are called "essential oils" -- because they cannot be made from other dietary fats.)
While I am ranting, I should mention that margarine and other hydrogenated fats are actually bad for everyone, so they are especially bad for people with brain injuries. They displace healthy fats from the diet, and they interfere with the efficiency of fat metabolism. Brains are mostly made of fat, so this is a big deal.
My sources for a lot of this include Udo Erasmus, but there is a medical literature available of PubMed and others research sites.

I suffered a major traumatic brain injury from a car crash with a fatality and I was touch at go too and was in a 3week coma in March.. I had a bleed on at the back and a bleed at the front and I've eaten healthy and tried everything thing to help me along but recently I've started taking vitamin b complex and omega 3 with vitamin d and I don't feel 90% I feel 110% now everythings worth a try

What can you feed a patient if he is being fed liquids in a feeding tube?  My grandson is semi conscious...almost 1 year post accident.

My Book "Living The Invisible Disability" by Hannah Andrusky has ten healing tips that heal the brain from the inside out!

It's really good to know all the foods I can eat to help my recovery. I'm going to be taking a lot of vitamins as well. It's good to have a list of what each one does.

Tara |  http://www.kybackdoc.com 

Has anyone tried using coconut oil as a supplement. I am considering it for our son

Awesome post I have read many post before about immune system and this is one of the best. Thanks for your advice. Immune Booster If you have a chronic medical condition, such as heart disease, asthma, or diabetes, or if you're pregnant or an older adult, it’s important to talk with your doctor if you catch the flu.
So much of what she said is logical. now I am progressing from my concussion back in Dec or 2012. these are helping day to day lights and noise are so key, processing/ decision making anything getting better. nutrition elements some new stuff to add to my list .Learning and adjusting intake and activiity to each day. The Refrigerator is the center of my life, concrete center.
I had TBI resulting from stroke. Right side affected, head TBI from stroke. Right side affected & head unbearable. Worked with stroke victims for years, so knew exercises to do for affected limbs. Prayed for & declared Healing, in Jesus\' name. Do vitamins & good nutrition. All returning to normal, weeks later, right side and head getting stronger.
If you are caring for a TBI loved one, proper brain nutrients will be crucial for full cognitive recovery. The vitamins & supplements listed are fantastic as is the comment from Feb 28th. Add to the list: DHA, blueberries, strawberries, spinach, huge organic salads, extra virgin coconut oil(spread on toast), lecithin granules, GABA + niacinimide + magnesium at night helps deep healing sleep, protein powder mixes and protein bars (try to keep sugar intake low since it will inflame the brain if excessive) Alpha Lipoic Acid will counter any sugar toxicity. My spouse has recovered from TBI and severe bodily injuries in 3 months with a dedicated diet, love and support from caring family and friends. The body can only rebuild if given proper nutrition. Also stay far far away from aspartame, splenda and MSG in all foods. Vaccines should all be avoided as well. All these issues can be found on website: naturalnews.com and Dr. Russel Blaylock's book, "Health and Nutrition Secrets" He also has great Youtube videos. Good luck and healing to all.
This site is the best advice and support i have had . Having read the comments above i feel better about talking to my dad who does not seem to believe that my fall could have had such an adverse effect on how i get along in the world. Work, school and personal relationships are emotion and physicly draining sometimes. thank you for the benefit of showing my excuse is not just an excuse.
Thank you for this wealth of information. It is the little things that add up to help the most. Our Sean has a anoxic brain injury from emergency heart surgery in 2009. He has come such a long way but every little bit helps. Again thank you.
this is gave me a lot of confidence.I am only 17 and I had an horse accident in July and since then i have changed so much and I am trying to get back to the old Shane but I don't get a lot of family help.My parents don't help really at all they think i am faking it when I start having some symptoms and think i am crazy when really im not.After reading this website though I have alot of motivation.So thank you. Shane McKinley

Your symptoms are not a handicap just a challenge son. Keep researching on your own and fight for yourself

Wonderful article! This is nice to see coming out as the correct nutrition is one of the foundations of healing! I would even go a step further and explore organic foods as the chemicals in our food supply do not promote healing and are counter productive in causing more problems as one can be more sensitive to these after a brain injury. Thank you!
I got a Traumatic Brain Injury in 1999. My advice to you is to carefully see what you are able to do, then do it. Everyone is different. Take it easy & good luck
i suffered a ntbi which left my left side now disabled .let me tell my story i walked into hospital and left in a wheelchair i had an avm whats the best solution for me