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99% of us don’t get the nutrition our brain and body need from diet alone

We conducted independent research into diets—and most of us aren't getting it right.
Sophie Medlin
Head of Nutritional Research
November 13, 2020
4 min read

Last year, we partnered with an independent research body to get to the bottom of some burning questions we had about nutrition for your brain. 

When developing the Smart Supplement, it was important for us to understand people’s eating habits—including their knowledge base of what good nutrition is, what they’re eating, and why—so that we could identify where the gaps were in their base nutrition, and make sure we could fill them.

We’re so excited to finally be able to share our nutrition research survey results with you. You might be surprised at what we found...

What did we ask?

The survey was conducted by an independent research body, who asked 2000 people all over Britain to answer questions about nutrition. They were asked about topics including their idea of a healthy diet, to describe their daily eating habits in detail, if they considered nutrition for the brain when thinking about their food choices, and if they were aware of their nutrient requirements. 

How many of us have a good diet? 

The most widely recommended diet by the NHS is the Mediterranean diet. The University of Gothenburg has proven it to be the best diet for brain function and mental health, linking it to a reduced risk of anxiety and depression, as well as its well-documented links with reduced risk of stroke and heart disease.

Getting the right nutrients for your brain is a hugely important part of having a thriving brain. And yet, despite this diet being billed as the best for our brain health, only 1 in 400 people surveyed actually consumed a Mediterranean diet. 

That’s less than 1% of people actually consuming what their brains and bodies need to thrive

What is the Mediterranean diet?

There are, of course, ways to supplement the nutrients in these foods, but in terms of getting them from your diet alone, here's what it looks like: 

  • Olive oil as your main source of fat 

  • More than 2 portions of vegetables per day 

  • More than 3 portions of fruit per day 

  • 2 portions of red meat per week 

  • No more than 1 serving (12g or 2 teaspoons) of butter per day 

  • No more than 7 glasses of wine/alcohol per week

  • Less than 1 glass of fizzy drinks per day 

  • 3 servings of beans and seeds per week 

  • 3 portions of fish or shellfish per week 

  • More than 3 portions of nuts per week 

  • No more than 3 portions of cakes/biscuits/pastries per week

  • 3 portions of dairy per day (or appropriately fortified dairy alternatives)

As well as making us think of sun-soaked hillsides, fresh air, and siestas—the Mediterranean diet delivers a combo of nutrients that add up to a long, healthy life. These benefits include; slowing of cognitive decline, decreased likelihood of depression and anxiety, heart health, blood sugar stability, weight control, and gut health. 

It’s also enjoyed by many of the longest-living communities in the world. Make of that what you will. 

(Obviously, the above diet is for omnivores—anyone following a plant-based diet would need to supplement to make up for any gaps.)

How do our diets measure up to the Mediterranean diet?

In short? Not well. Eating a ‘balanced diet’ (like the Mediterranean diet), is a term widely used but poorly understood. Most people with busy modern lifestyles find it hard to reliably consume the right nutrients for the brain in the required quantities, or in the case of those on a plant-based diet—find it hard to find suitable alternatives.

Our research found:

  • Nearly 10% of people admitted to not eating any of the recommended quantities

  • Only 18% confidently said they eat 2 portions of vegetables and 3 portions of fruit per day

  • Just 16% get the recommended intake of nuts and seeds

  • 76% consume too little dairy 

  • Over 80% are not eating enough fish and shellfish

We’re putting our brains and bodies at risk

Not getting the right nutrition for the brain can adversely affect mental health and well-being, and have huge repercussions for our physical health too.

One of the foods that is often neglected is purple fruits and vegetables. These contain anthocyanins—which have been shown to improve mental performance in all ages, from children to the elderly, and yet only 34% of people surveyed reliably eat these each day. 

In addition, only 20% of those surveyed eat foods containing the recommended levels of B12 and iron daily. Lacking iron and B vitamins is known to cause sleep disturbance, poor memory and fatigue—and people are feeling the effects, with more than a quarter (26%) admitting to taking supplements to increase their energy levels.

How Heights can help with nutrition deficits

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