The brain is functioning every single second of every single day and night. That means it needs constant fuel and that fuel comes from the nutrition that you eat. Food does actually affect how the brain works, its structure, and even how you feel (mood).
In fact, your gut is your second brain. Your gastrointestinal tract works hand in hand with your brain. Your brain communicates to your gut because it needs what your gut contains (nutrients from food) to perform functions. Let’s say that your body isn’t getting enough nutrients, i.e., is low on food/fuel. Sensors in the gut will alert the brain cells that there is a problem.
This activates the body’s system to find food. The brain’s response might include feeling hungry and having an sensation of emptiness in your stomach, constant thoughts about food, and/or being unable to concentrate. Therefore, the brain is trying to communicate to you to go get up and find some food and eat that food.
If this time period of not eating goes longer than the brain wants it to, a person might experience feeling anxious. The body needs food for calming and when you continue to not eat consistently, the brain gets anxious in anticipation of having to operate on empty.
Ironically, the brain is smart too. If you haven’t been consuming enough of a certain nutrient, the brain focuses signals on this nutrient. For example, if you haven’t been having enough protein and have been eating more carbohydrates than anything else, the nervous system will send cues to the brain that the body needs more protein.
Suddenly, you might feel an urge to have a juicy burger or chicken burrito. Those cravings actually mean something. When a pregnant woman says she is craving certain foods, e.g., red meat, the brain is saying this baby and you need more iron or whatever nutrient is lacking.
If you ignore what the brain is asking, it is as if your punishment becomes being in a bad mood or irritable. Your body appreciates regular eating at intervals throughout the day and eating sources that provide all the nutrients that you need.
The gastrointestinal tract (GI) tract is filled of billions of bacteria that actual influence how neurotransmitters are produced. These neurotransmitters are the messengers sending communication between the gut and the brain. Dopamine and serotonin are two of the important neurotransmitters.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for making you want to go out, seek out, and search. It increases arousal. When we eat foods we enjoy, the brain actually releases dopamine producing feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.
It is also responsible for boosting your mood, making you feel motivated, regulating movement, learning, paying attention, and even your emotional responses to life. Some lab experiments focusing on the effects of dopamine, have resulted in lab rats pressing on the level that releases dopamine over and over again.
This plays into the idea of what is called the “dopamine loop”. People want to experience pleasurable feelings and will repeat the dopamine loop over and over again, even if the behavior that causes dopamine to be released is dangerous.
Persons become sensation seekers. Beginning in infancy, dopamine levels are critical because they mental disabilities can result if levels are altered. Dopamine levels are related to hypothyroidism, depressive disorders addiction, binge eating, gambling, and Alzheimer’s. A person with attention deficit hyper disorder (ADHD) might take medication to help increase the effectiveness of dopamine in their body.
Serotonin is also involved in many psychological processes. Its main function is mood stabilization. It is found in your digestive system and in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Too much or too little serotonin is the key because the main job of serotonin is to stabilize your mood.
Other function is helps with are sleep, bowel movements, and sexual function. Specific nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D are key players in the creation and release of Vitamin D. Again, these come from food sources. Serotonin deficiency leads to depression and stress. Serous side affects include suicidal thoughts.
Therefore, some of the side effects of low serotonin when the brain is trying to communicate this need are nausea, digestive issues, unintended weight gain, poor appetite, as well as craving carbohydrates. That is where the term “stress eating” comes into play. Again, nutrient and mental health are in fact connected.
One might even link the effects of nutrition to body image. What we think about what we see in ourselves can be associated with nutritional components. For example, obesity caused by overeating and poor diet can result in poor body image.
You might not like what you see, but you also know the key to changing this starts with what you are eating. High fat and high sugar foods have contributed to high weight. Eating healthier could contribute to stabilizing serotonin as well, instead of focusing on the dopamine releasing effects of eating foods that are only satisfying and pleasurable in the moment.
In due time, over indulging and rewarding those cravings to add up. Frequent dieting can also affect your mental health. Some people want to achieve a certain look or weight that may not be healthy for their body. Therefore, nutrients can become insufficient, and the brain will respond to this imbalance. Body image can be deceptive and misleading to the point of starvation or even purging food.
There are a number of foods that can actually help your brain functioning.
- Fatty fish – Again omega-3 fatty acids are the major building blocks of the brain. Good sources include sardines, salmon and trout.
- Nuts – These are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. The also contain alphalinolic acid which is good for memory.
- Leafy greens – These include kale, collard greens, spinach and broccoli which have nutrients your brain loves. These nutrients include Vitamin K, folate, beta carotene and lutein.
- Turmeric – This is a strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant which helps the brain. It also helps reduce symptoms of depression and even Alzheimer’s disease. The active compound is called curcumin.
- Berries – These contain flavonoids which come from plants and that is what gives berries their color. Berries help improve
- Tea And Coffee – The two main components of tea and coffee are caffeine and antioxidants which are both good for your brain.
- Dark chocolate – Cocoa powder is actually brain boosting.
Eating high quality proves leads to high quality functioning of the brain. That is why many marketing and sales tactics will refer to their products as “super foods” or “best brain foods”. Since we have to eat, we may as well eat what is good for us.
There is often the phrase, “Plain food is brain food”. This is because highly processed foods and those that contain tons of sugar, only serve the purpose of making you feel full. Of course you can function if you eat donuts and granola bars. The packages will even tell you that you can. We have to keep in mind that food is a billion upon billion dollar industry.
We are lured by advertisements with celebrities enjoying foods or labels that say non-fat or zero calories. We hear of the latest diet trends and the result that everyone has seen. Here comes the saying, “Just because it tastes good doesn’t mean it is good for you”. If only ice cream could make our brains smarter and work harder.
The brain only weight about 3 pounds, but think of everything, every single second of the day that is has to do. If we want to live well and be well, we need that brain on our team making sure that every single second it is ablet to perform its functions.
There are certain nutrients from food that are must for the brain. If we aren’t getting these nutrients from the foods we are eating, supplementation might become needed. Sometimes blood work can reveal low or high levels and you can adjust you diet accordingly.
Sometimes you might be everything in the amounts you need, but the body isn’t absorbing or digesting it correctly. Again, supplementation could be useful for, but should always be discussed with your doctor first.
- Antioxidants – These include Vitamin C and E. The brain is very delicate and the role of these vitamins is to act as protectors of all the structures and cells They fight against free radical damage.
- Fatty Acids – The brain is actually made up of two-thirds fat. We need fatty acids for insulation of our nerve cells and to keep cell membranes intact. Diets high in omega-3 fatty acids can actually prevent degeneration and diseases or problems that can be associated with this.
- Protein – We need protein to actually balance blood sugar levels and to make sure glucose is reaching our brain. Proteins contain amino acids like tyrosine found in meats, fish, and tofu helps neurotransmitters transport dopamine and norepinephrine. These are both important for mood regulation. Poultry, milk and eggs contain serotonin, which again helps with mood as well as sleep. Glutamine is also found in protein which helps control anxiety.
- Vitamin B – This helps regulate homocysteine which causes inflammation in the brain. Inflammation can restrict blood vessels which means less blood flows to the brain. This will affect brain cells and might be indicated by slurred speech or reaction time.
- Vitamin D – This is the sunshine vitamin but we also get it from food. Low levels contribute to depression.
- Magnesium – Only about 25% of Americans are getting enough magnesium which plays a role in sleep, bowels, cravings, energy, stress, focus, and concentration.
A big one we don’t want to forget and you might not associate with food, is water. The brain is made up of 73% water so dehydration is not desired. This leads to confusion and lack of energy.
Sugar activities the reward system in the brain but also impairs brain function. Too much sugar can lead to inflammation in brain and affects both memory and attention. This is why sometimes adjustments to children’s diets can help with attention.
Think about a time when you went without sugar and then finally had some. Your energy spikes, you feel a rush, but then it crashes. Sugar plays tricks to keep you wanting more, but it should be eating only every now and then, especially to ward off excess weight.
Having adequate amounts of nutrients actually plays into hormonal levels. Estrogen and testosterone are the two key players. Raised or lowered hormones as a result of poor nutrition can affect mood, thyroid functioning, and even skin. For example, acne can be a sign of nutrient imbalances. Not everything can be fixed by diet, but it is a good place to start.
Eating is such a forefront of our culture. Homemade traditional recipes aren’t necessarily keeping an eye out for how many nutrients are in them. When you order something off a menu, your first thought isn’t necessarily is this good for my brain? Birthday cake is birthday cake, even if it isn’t good for us, it’s part of the traditional celebration.
Most of the time without knowing it we are we are getting many foods with nutrients because something like ordering coffee is good for our brain power but it also then depends on what we are putting in that coffee. That is the problem with our diets these days is that we’re having extra added on to the basic.
We might enjoy a baked potato but then we put cheese, sour cream in tons of butter on it. Suddenly the original potato isn’t just a potato anymore it now has many other not so good nutrients on it,.
We often hear that we should have a variety are fruits and vegetables and overall the types of foods that we are eating. this is because we might be lacking nutrients if we are always eating the same thing and that’s does not include some of the nutrients. For example, a vegetarian might be missing out on protein. that would mean they are also missing out on omega-3 fatty acids.
The dating world certainly points this out. most diets eliminate certain types of food so if you aren’t eating those foods you have to make sure that you’re getting the nutrients somewhere else however the creators of diets aren’t concerned with whether you are getting all of your nutrients or not they are concerned with making money.
We have to be aware that diets are supposed to be temporary. They are temporary because the brain can only operate on malnutrition for so long. your body image might improve but at the same time your brain is suffering.
Although you might think you are being healthy by losing weight sometimes the imbalances in nutrients are actually quite unhealthy for you that is why it is always good to seek the consultation of a registered dietician who can give you a sustainable lifestyle change or approach to your eating the problem is that we live in a world that desires instant gratification instead of taking the time to cook healthy foods to shop at the store and to make sure that what we are putting in the in our bodies is actually good for us.
There are now companies that can actually meal prep for us. this has become a popular approach to try healthy eating without all of the time that it takes. our culture seems to center around time. people go through drive-throughs and fast food because of time. we seem to forget that our brain is working for us all of the time.
When we live in the moment and just eat quickly because we had a simple hunger cues or a growl in our stomach we might be doing more harm than good it might be better to actually wait for the healthier meal. Yet again our culture says feed me because I feel hungry right now.
We also tend to do what is called emotional eating. feeling happy might be associated with eating sweets or going out to eat and eating large portions feeling sad can also produce these similar effects where we might try to eat to suppress feelings that are making us upset.
If we want to include alcohol and beverages in the category of food well that brings on a whole other dimension of what we are doing to our brain. It all centers back to the fact that we have to eat to live we cannot simply cut food out of our lives.
However we have to realize that food is constantly on our minds it is constantly being put in front of us it is being sold to us and we have to shop for it, it employs many people in the restaurant and service industry, there is a whole world of agriculture out there and all of the production that comes with it, there is a whole world of industrialization with processed foods, and there’s a whole world of cookbooks, recipes and diets.
Keeping It Simple
We used to live in a world that said you just eat breakfast lunch and dinner. we were told to drink our milk for strong bones we could have a dessert if we finish what we were supposed to be doing we could leave the dinner table if we ate all the food on our plate. We could pick where we wanted to eat if we were well behaved.
All of these factors play into our relationship with food when we become adults and the choices are up to us with how we want to practice our eating habits. being brought up in a home where food was mostly home cooked will probably lead to you cooking most of your food as an adult.
If you ate out most of the time then you will probably continue to eat out a majority of the time this could be because you were taught that is fine to eat out and you really didn’t learn how to cook.
Some people just don’t like going to the grocery store. we now have the option of groceries being brought to us. the food industry has certainly evolved and changed over the years. The bottom line is that what we are eating affects many parts of our health, but the most important part is our brain. Without your brain you can’t do anything in life.
If you treat your home and your car and your office space with care, then why wouldn’t you do the same for yourself and your brain? This might be because if we don’t see it we don’t think about it but in fact we are thinking about it because our brain is working all the time even as you are reading this.
Again our culture is food centered. People bring food to the office. People cook as a sign of love. we rarely show up somewhere empty handed and feel like we need to bring something for other people to eat. It can be rude to decline an offer when somebody gives us food. When we go to someone’s house we are offered something to eat or drink.
Everywhere we go there’s some type of snack or beverage that we can purchase. We have tons of food stored in our refrigerators and on our shelves that probably shouldn’t last as long as they do but because they are processed can last a very long time. the only way we can change some of this is to teach our younger generations about nutrition.
Most of us did not grow up in a world that taught us about calories. We just ate what was put in front of us and then when the choices became our own and the food industry changed, our choices changed with that industry. There are coffee shops on every corner now. When those coffee shops first came out we didn’t know that everything that was being put into them wasn’t that good for us.
We can kind of say that if we want to be smarter, we should eat smarter. We should make our next generation smarter about eating choices. This could ward off many types of illnesses and diseases if only we were eating correctly. The problem is that the first thing we look to is going to the doctor and getting medication.
Maybe we need to think about what we’re doing in our own lives which includes what we are eating before we try to make changes. It is OK to enjoy food and it is OK to celebrate and have foods that may not be so good for us all the time. it’s these repeated behaviors that confuses the brain to think that it is being rewarded. yet if you live in constant rewarding you aren’t getting all the nutrients that you need.