The impact of how a poor diet affects the body is well-known, as it is not so surprising or ironic heart disease remains the number one killer in the U.S. Whereas we contemplate whether or not, "A moment on your lips is worth forever on the hips," we should not forget how nutrition affects the brain.
And while the link between the diet and mental health is complex, it is nonetheless impressive and deserving of our upmost attention.
How Nutrition Affects the Brain
Nutrition can affect the brain almost immediately. Think about the last time you overindulged on a high-fat or sugary food or meal. How did you feel? While mostly gratified in the moment, you also likely experienced symptoms like lethargy, brain fog, and drowsiness quickly after.
While those sort of negative side effects eventually subside, regularly consuming components of a poor diet (think refined oils, sugars, and salt) places the risk of not only obesity, but brain-related repercussions such as stroke, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
But just as a poor diet can derail both physical and mental health, gravitating towards more nutrient-dense foods can work to progress them. In fact, there are particular nutrients that can positively influence focus, alertness, and memory, along with negating against the long-term consequences of a poor diet.
Food for Thought
Food for thought takes a whole new meaning when it comes to diet and brain health. The American Heart Association suggests a heart-healthy diet is likewise good for the brain.
Eating for your brain…
So-called "brain foods" include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, beans, and fish. More specifically, the following nutrients are regularly under the spotlight regarding their impact on brain health:
• Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Casually known as omega-3s, omega-3 fatty acids have proven to improve memory, focus, and concentration and lower the risk of depression thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3s are sourced from fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and trout, along with walnuts and grass-fed beef.
The term antioxidants essentially encompass the protective components in foods, particularly found in various food-based substances such as polyphenols, lycopene, and certain vitamins. Foods supplying antioxidants, especially colorful produce, have shown to prevent age-related neurodegenerations and protect against dementia and depression.
A high-fiber diet and mental health are linked in a number of ways, including by reducing inflammation in the brain and stabilizing blood sugars to regulate mood. Increase fiber intake by consuming more whole grains, fruits, veggies, beans, and lentils.
• Folic Acid
Adequate levels of folic acid are essential for brain function and a deficiency in folate can cause neurological disorders such as depression and cognitive impairment. Folate is rich in green, leafy veggies such as kale and spinach, along with fortified breakfast cereals.
Choline is a nutrient used to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which has shown to maintain memory and potentially lessen the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Major sources of choline include eggs, peanuts, meat, fish, and poultry.
Zinc shows promise in lessening the risk of premature cognitive decline, primarily related to its role in memory and learning functions and supporting overall brain health. The mineral is naturally sourced from oysters, beef, pork, dark meats of turkey and chicken, and milk.
• Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is an energy powerhouse and helps to manufacture DNA, nerves, and blood cells, all of which are vital for keeping a healthy brain. Vitamin B12 is habitually found in animal products, including meat, poultry, milk, and eggs, though it can be added to breakfast cereals and other plant-based foods.
Also with the brain being comprised of approximately 80 percent water, do not forget about the importance of adequate hydration! Not only is the brain sensitive to dehydration (which can lead to brain fog, lethargy, confusion, and dizziness), but is required to carryout certain vital processes required by the brain and entire body.
And even beyond the food (and water) itself, there is supplementary evidence supporting controlled meal-skipping or intermittent caloric restriction can protect the brain by protecting against oxidative damage.
…and those for future generations.
Interestingly, too, eating for your brain can impact generations to come!
In fact, there is a growing body of research supporting health can be passed down through generations, including the effects of diet on mental health! And with innate genetics deemed unmodifiable, the ability to take control over flexible lifestyle factors is nonetheless exciting.
Plus, not only is this an opportunity to shape healthy brains of generations to come, but a ploy to break the overwhelming obesity rates and grow a healthier America!
But just as important as breaking the patterns of a poor diet, likewise take control over other brain-protective lifestyle factors, including regular exercise, adequate sleep, and stress management.