How what you eat affects your mental health.
Your brain is always working even when you’re sleeping. It takes care of your senses, thoughts, breathing, movement, and heartbeats. That means it requires a constant supply of fuel which comes from the food you eat. What is in this fuel has different impacts on the brain. What you eat affects brain structure, functioning, and mood.
Like any other engine, your brain functions well when it gets premium fuel. Eating superfoods that are high in minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants nourish it and protect it from oxidative stress.
Just like an engine of an expensive car that gets damaged when provided with low-quality fuels, some low-quality foods can cause damage to your brain. A diet high in refined carbs is similar to low-quality fuels. Refined carbs are also known as empty calories because they are extremely low in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They are digested quickly and have a high glycemic index hence causing rapid insulin and blood sugar spikes.
In addition to affecting insulin production, high blood sugar promotes oxidative stress and inflammation. A diet high in refined sugars impairs the brain functioning and worsen the symptoms of depression and other mood disorders.
How food affects how you feel
Ninety percent of serotonin (the neurotransmitter that meditates mood, regulates sleep and appetite, and inhibits pain) is from the gastrointestinal tract. The lining of your gastrointestinal tract has millions of neurons or nerve cells. The functioning of these neurons and the production of serotonin is influenced by the billions of bacteria in your digestive tract.
These bacterias are together known as the microbiome. They help protect the lining of the intestines and provide a barrier against toxins and harmful bacteria. They also improve how your body absorbs nutrients from food, reduces inflammation, and activates the neural pathway traveling from your gut to the brain.
Eating probiotics (foods containing good bacteria) and prebiotics (foods high in fiber, which is food to the good bacteria) will improve your mental outlook and reduce anxiety and stress levels.
How certain foods negatively affect your brain
Some of the foods we eat don’t contain any of the above vitamins and minerals. Some increase the risk of mental diseases while others worsen their symptoms. Here are some of the worst foods for your brain:
1. Sugary drinks
A high intake of sugary drinks such as fruit juice, soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks expands your waistline increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart diseases. Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. High blood sugar levels also increase the risk of dementia, even to people who don’t have diabetes.
2. Foods high in trans fats
Industrially produced trans fats (hydrogenated vegetable oils) have a detrimental effect on brain health. Ready-make cakes, prepackaged cookies, snack foods, frosting, shortening, and margarine are some of the foods that contain trans fats. According to Healthline, eating high amounts of trans fats increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and can also cause lower brain volume, cognitive decline, and poor memory.
3. Refined carbs
Refined carbohydrates (highly processed grains and sugar) have a high glycemic index. Your body digests and absorbs them quickly into the bloodstream, causing a spike into your blood sugar and insulin levels. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NBCI), a single meal with a high glycemic load can impair memory and intelligence and increase the risk of dementia in both children and adults.
Alcohol is an enjoyable addition to a nice meal, but only when consumed in moderation. Excessive consumption of alcohol has negative effects on the brain. It can cause a reduction in brain volume and disruption of neurotransmitters. According to Nature Reviews Neurology, people with alcoholism are likely to be Vitamin B1 deficient.
Vitamin B1 deficiency is the primary cause of a brain disorder known as Wernickeâs encephalopathy that develops to Korsakoffâs syndrome. Some of the symptoms of this syndrome include severe brain damage that causes unsteadiness, confusion, memory loss, and disturbances in eyesight.
According to Human alcohol-related neuropathology, alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause brain developmental disorders, such as fetal alcohol syndrome.
How to improve your brain performance
To improve your brain performance, cut down those nutrient-deficient foods you might be eating. The following nutrients will positively affect your mental health:
1. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids help keep your brain running on a tip-top condition. Extreme low amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) causes difficulty in focusing, mood swings, and anxieties. Omega-3 fatty acids are high in these acids.
To increase the level of Omega-3 fatty acids in your body, eat wild-caught fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel. If you are allergic to fish or don’t like how they taste, add flaxseeds, walnuts, and grass-fed beef into your diet.
A low level of zinc impacts your emotional state, mood, appetite, and energy levels. To supply your body with enough zinc, include pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts, oysters, chickpeas, spinach, and chicken in your diet.
Proteins provide your body with the building blocks for neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which influences your emotional state. To build these neurotransmitters, eat fish, eggs, cheese, oats, tofu, and lentils.
4. Natural Carbohydrates
Your body depends on carbs as the primary source of energy. Your brain also depends on carbs for energy. Lack of carbs in your diet will make you feel tired and unable to focus.
To get the best out of your brain, and to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, avoid filling your plate with refined carbs and get natural or whole carbs instead. Good examples are whole grains, legumes, whole fruits and vegetables.
Low energy and fatigue are signs of iron deficiency. It can also cause depression, anxiety, and restlessness. According to the National Health Service (NHS), iron deficiency is one of the possible causes of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. The best iron-rich foods to add in your diet are quinoa, lentils, dark leafy greens, and meat.
Selenium helps improve symptoms of mood disorder. Unfortunately, only a few selected foods are rich in selenium. To get selenium naturally, eat two Brazil nuts every day. They can provide you with enough selenium for your daily requirements. Another source of selenium is yellowfin tuna.
A daily supplement of magnesium is the best way to improve your emotional state regardless of your age, gender, and severity of conditions. The best sources of magnesium are salmon, spinach, chickpeas, banana, avocado, and asparagus.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NBCI), folate deficiency causes neural tube defects. Folate deficiency can also cause depression. To get enough folate from the food you eat, add lentils, avocado, broccoli, chickpeas, asparagus, and kidney beans in your diet.
9. Vitamin D
We all know vitamin D for its ability to improve bone strength, but it also plays a role in the production of neurotransmitters. You can get vitamin D by spending some minutes in the morning sun or add the following foods in your diet fatty fish (tuna and salmon), fortified milk, and egg yolk.
10. Vitamin B12
Cobalamin or vitamin B12 is known to improve nerve health, brain function, red blood cell production, and support DNA. You can get an adequate amount of vitamin B12 by adding eggs, dairy products, cow or lamb liver, clams, sardines, trout, and beef in your diet.
According to Neuroneeds, choline deficiency can cause brain fog, memory problems, cognitive or learning disabilities, fatigue, fatty liver, and muscle pain. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NBCI), choline is a fundamental nutrient for brain development, synthesis of acetylcholine neurotransmitter, cell membrane signaling, and homocysteine reduction.
Some of the human food rich in choline include eggs, shellfish, poultry, dairy foods, spinach, beets, and wheat.
Exercising and meditation
Apart from adding superfoods in your diet, you can also improve your brain performance by exercising and meditating. Regular exercise will affect your brain in many ways. It increases oxygen supply to your brain by increasing heart rate. With adequate oxygen supply, the brain is able to function well as it is getting enough energy. According to Scientific American, exercising also stimulates the growth of new connections between cells in many cortical areas of the brain hence promoting brain plasticity. Exercising and meditation can help refresh your mind when you are unable to focus.