No matter how many times we hear the phrase, “You are what you eat”, it never stops ringing true — and never fails to make us think twice about our current diets. But more often than not, when we talk about nutrition in our society, we tend to focus too much on the body-image side of the equation. We forget that the imperative to kickstart more healthy eating and living habits is fundamentally about our mental and physical health.
Think of it this way: food is comprised of nutrients that break down to create the energy we need to get us through our day. But more than just energy, our ability to do well relies on how well our brains can actually process how to tackle the day ahead. And why wouldn’t the food we eat affect how our brain is functioning?
There’s some food for thought.
You Think What You Eat: How Nutrition Impacts Your Mental Health
One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.
– Virginia Woolf
Our mental and physical health is as affected by our diets as our views and values are shaped by our experiences. What is the exact connection between nutrition and mental health?
What makes up our food determines how well a brain can carry out its duties — aka helping you think. Mental health affects your ability to make rational decisions, function in everyday life, and form just perceptions of the world. It’s important to clarify that “mental health” and “mindset” are not the same thing. A mindset is based off your own personal beliefs and dictates why you make certain choices. Mental health contributes to the ability to make a choice in the first place.
Here’s how mental health comes into the picture
The truth is not only that what you eat impacts how you think and perform, but also that nutrition and mental health directly influence each other.
It’s proven that dietary patterns impact the quality of your mental health and mind. For instance, after you eat a fillet of salmon with vegetables vs. a greasy burger, do you feel your mood stagnate or improve? Does the ability to make sound decisions come naturally, or with struggle? What about your inclination to absorb new information, is it easy or difficult?
Take amino acids, for example, the essential component that builds protein. The brain requires the supply of amino acids and protein to foster the development of neurotransmitters that communicate signals throughout the nerves to the body. Without a proper amount in our blood stream, our brains would function at a much slower rate and will be unable to help us perform at our best.
If you’re have difficulty concentrating, you definitely need to ramp up your consumption of antioxidants and fatty acids. Your brain is 60% fat! It needs regulatory utilization of fatty acids to keep the gears rolling and maintain the integrity of a brain’s cell walls. Therefore, you need to continuously promote brain optimality by consuming what makes it properly function in the first place.
A well-fed and clear-thinking brain will then help you make the right choices in turn, in favour of more wholesome and nutritious foods, creating a virtuous cycle.
Food for thought: The mind-body connection
When we speak about nutrition, we all know that eating unhealthily puts you at risk for diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular diseases. But eating processed food also contributes to brain damage, the development of mental illnesses, and even heavily interferes with cognitive ability.
The brain damage comes from digesting too many trans fats that slowly destroy neuronal communication. Mental illnesses, on the other hand, are developed from a nutrient deficiency in the amino acid tryptophan, which contributes to creating an overall sense of well-being. A lack of tryptophan, therefore, offsets your brain’s healthy chemical balance and makes you vulnerable to depression. Lastly, the lack of proper cognitive abilities like learning and memory take a serious hit from junk food, which is often high in refined sugars and low in key vitamins and nutrients.
Fuel your brain to be the best that you can be
You get one body in this life, and you need to treat it well! Taking care of it means not only exercising and pampering yourself, but caring about what you eat every day and paying attention to how your mind works. Sometimes, the reason why we don’t feel at our best can be solved with a simple solution: eat right — with no excuses!