How Your Diet Impacts Your Brain Function And Mental Health
We’re going to take a whistlestop tour of how your diet impacts mental health and also your brain function.
In this context, we’re talking generally, about how the things you eat and drink can impact your brain function and your mental wellbeing.
We’re not talking about the horrific mental scarring and body image issues that come with crash diets and the fitness industry as a whole.
That’s a big topic for another time.
I want to break this down into two separate directions. Number one is how what we eat and drink has a direct impact on the brain and the other is how it impacts the gut.
How Diet Impacts Brain Function
What we eat and drink very definitely does have a direct impact on our brain. The most obvious example that comes to mind is caffeine.
It’s a stimulant, which a lot of us, me especially, use to perk ourselves up or wake ourselves up in the morning and get our brain switched on.
But if we’re already on edge or nervous about something, caffeine can make that anxiety much worse.
Although in my case, it seems to take the edge off when I’m nervous, which is probably something else which should set off some alarm bells, but here we are.
Let’s also look at a couple of other examples.
Hydration is a good starting point. Our brain is 70% water. If you’re not hydrating yourself properly or consistently you are impairing your brain function.
And omega three fatty acids is another one – the kind you find in oily fish. Some studies have shown it can help support the membrane that surrounds the brain, and it can also help increase blood flow to the brain.
Your brain is also prone to something called oxidative stress.
This happens because your brain is busy and active and has a high oxygen consumption and uses up a lot of calories and energy as well.
Foods rich in antioxidants like cocoa or dark chocolate and berries can help counteract this.
These are very specific examples of how certain foods can have a direct impact on brain function.
A diet that’s rich in protein, natural fats, vitamins minerals, so fruit and vegetables, hydration, and whole grains will pretty much cover all your bases.
But it’s also worth looking at how food can impact our mood, our sense of self and our general sense of calmness and well-being.
How Diet Can Impact Mood
I already touched on how dark chocolate has been shown to boost mood as well.
Eating regularly and not letting your blood sugar go too high or too low. That’s going to help with your mood stability.
And occasional comfort eating – to an extent, allowing yourself to relax on your nutrition choices can also help promote the production of serotonin, which is the hormone that helps stabilize your mood.
And the next thing I wanted to talk about is the gut.
How Your Gut Health Impacts Your Brain
The gut can be thought of like a second brain.
The gut contains the enteric nervous system or ENS, which has a role in communicating with the brain and has a strong impact on how we feel.
Bear in mind I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scientist and I haven’t studied this myself. So this is not my field of expertise. I just collected some information. Nothing I say in this should be taken as medical advice or scientific evidence.
But I have looked at studies to back up what I’m saying. And I don’t think anything I’m saying is going to be particularly radical or outlandish anyways.
This is literally the “for dummies” version of how diet impacts your mental health.
The gut is responsible for breaking down the food that we eat and whatever we drink. And any nutritional value to be gained from the food and drink will come from being processed in the gut.
So extracting that nutritional value does rely on having a healthy gut.
Also, 2 of the main happiness hormones, serotonin and dopamine, are both produced in your gut.
And we need to be able to provide the bacteria in our intestines with enough adequate nutrition, to be supported, to be able to continue to break down that food.
How Do You Improve Your Gut Health?
Fibre is a good choice. It helps pass waste through your system and it can also help slow down absorption.
A balanced diet that’s rich in nutrients, is just generally helpful for pretty much any health condition.
You also want to be getting foods that are rich in prebiotics. Things like bananas, almonds, and chickpeas. And foods that are rich in probiotics like yoghurt, and fermented foods, namely kimchi and sauerkraut.
You want to minimise stress as much as possible because I mean, to be fair, that’s a general health and lifestyle advice thing. But minimise stress as much as possible and try and reduce your intake of processed foods.
It doesn’t mean that you have to eliminate them entirely, but keeping to whatever would classify as moderation for you in the context of a balanced diet.
Diet Impact On Mental Health And Brain Function
Your diet, your gut, your brain function, and your mental health are all interconnected.
If you focus on nourishing your gut and nourishing yourself with nutrient dense foods, supporting the bacteria that are in your gut, then while it’s not going to be a magic fix for mental health issues, it’s going to give you that brain function and it’s going to give you that support to be better prepared to deal with whatever you’re dealing with.