Feed Your Brain Well = Feel Better
December 7, 2020 – Defence Stories
Author: Pamela Hatton, RD, MSc, Strengthening the Forces
Studies have shown eating a traditional diet can improve the way you feel. These diets have lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, moderate portions of lean meats and dairy, and tend to be anti-inflammatory.
Did you know what you eat influences how you feel? There are psychological, biochemical and physical connections linking what we eat to our brain health, and scientific evidence shows the quality of our diet influences our moods. While you might want to eat ice cream and chips when you’re sad, the truth is, eating a bowl of oatmeal and berries will make you happier.
The brain needs a lot of energy and nutrients for structure and function. Studies have shown eating a traditional diet can improve the way you feel. These diets have lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, moderate portions of lean meats and dairy and tend to be anti-inflammatory. Today’s typical Western-style diet, on the other hand, tends to be highly processed, high in sugars and low in vegetables and fruit. This promotes inflammation and is associated with heart disease, high-blood pressure, depression and possibly Alzheimer’s disease. Foods considered pro-inflammatory such as—fried foods, sugary drinks, refined carbohydrates and processed meats—may increase inflammation, oxidative stress and decrease good gut bacteria.
Evidence supports that certain foods can be thought of as a medicine and that “brain food” can improve your mental well-being. It is very important to note that the mental health benefits that come from the food you eat depends on the positive interactions of “all” the foods you eat, and not just specific nutrients and foods. That said, there are some key nutrients found in foods that act on brain chemistry including:
- Vitamin C: vegetables and fruits such as tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, citrus fruit, berries
- Vitamin E: walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, peanuts and wheat germ
- Beta-carotene: dark green and orange vegetables: spinach, kale, carrots, butternut squash and sweet potato
- B vitamins: whole grains, meat, poultry, eggs, legumes (lentils, black beans, kidney beans), leafy green vegetables and fortified cereals
- Vitamin D: fortified milk, fatty fish and egg yolks
- Zinc: shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy, eggs, whole grain and dark chocolate
- Iron: red meats, poultry, oysters, legumes, leafy greens, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, fortified cereals and dark chocolate too!
- Omega-3-fatty acids: fatty fish and seafood, flax and chia seeds, canola oil, walnuts and navy and soybeans
Healthy gut bacteria (called microbiome), include barley, oats, legumes, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, bananas, garlic, onion, chicory root and fermented products like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and natural sauerkraut.
The nutrients in the food you eat are important for making neurotransmitters, which transmit signals to your brain. Low levels of these nutrients in your body can affect the production of feel good neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. This will also contribute to low energy, brain fog and depressed mood. These nutrients are also important for healthy gut bacteria (called the microbiome). In a healthy microbiome, bacteria work together to produce substances that are essential to the functioning of the brain, the immune and hormonal systems. As incredible as it sounds, your microbiome produces most of the brain’s serotonin, the happy mood regulator.
Nutrition is as important for keeping your brain healthy as it is for heart health or athletic performance. Healthy eating supplies the body with essential nutrients, reduces inflammation and feeds healthy gut bacteria. Don’t waste your time looking for a single magic food or nutrient. What is really important is the overall quality of your diet. Eating a variety of whole foods and avoiding processed foods can help you feel in top form mentally and physically. Simply put, when you feed your brain well, you feel better.
Strengthening the Forces is CAF/DND’s healthy lifestyles promotion program providing expert information, skills and tools for promoting and improving CAF members’ health and well-being.
Pamela Hatton, RD, MSc, is part of the Strengthening the Forces team and works on promoting healthy eating and nutritional wellness.
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