Simran Kataria- 02 October 2022
How The Food We Eat Affects Our Brain
The brain works incessantly, 24/7, to make the body function optimally- and food is the fuel it needs to help you power through your day. There is a direct relationship between the foods we eat and the functioning of our brains. The food you eat can impact your thinking and even your mood. Proper, healthy nutrition can benefit the brain in several positive ways. It is imperative that we don't lean towards an unhealthy diet as it can hinder our body and its functioning in several different ways. Let’s get into how the food we eat and its nutritional content impacts our brain and body.
Impact of an unhealthy diet on the brain
The gut and the brain are connected by neurons that transmit messages back and forth between them. The food we eat is sensed by the neurons of the gut, which then send signals to alert the brain. Because of this connection, it is not surprising that an unhealthy diet can cause problems with cognitive functions such as remembering, learning, or thinking.
An unhealthy diet causes the body to release too much of stress hormones resulting in possible inflammation in certain parts of the brain, including the hippocampus. Inflammation in the hippocampus can negatively affect our cognitive abilities, which makes it harder to plan, focus, or remember things. This inflammation can even lead to depression.
Excessive sugar consumption and having frequent meals consisting of processed foods are two major factors contributing to an unhealthy diet, and this is how they impact our brain:
The effects of sugar
Sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas, fruit juice, sports drinks, and specialty coffee beverages, often contain high fructose corn syrup, a type of sugar with a high glycemic index. This means that the sugar is rapidly absorbed by the gut, causing the body to produce a surge of insulin, a hormone that allows our body’s cells to either use or store sugar.
Most of the sugars we consume are not used immediately by the body as fuel, but instead are stored as glycogen or converted into body fat. Repeated consumption of excessive sugars can contribute to obesity and, over time, the body may lose its ability to produce enough insulin, leading to diabetes.
The effects of processed foods
Processed (factory-milled) grains, which include pasta, white rice, and unbleached flour (used to make cookies, crackers, pretzels, and other snack foods) are stripped of fibre, vitamins, and other nutrients during manufacturing, leaving behind simple carbohydrates or starches. Starches are absorbed in the gut very rapidly, just like sugars, and when consumed repeatedly, can lead to similar chronic inflammation and weight-related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
How healthy eating nourishes the brain and helps with the body’s functioning
Healthy eating is essential for memory, mood, and focus. The brain uses more than 20% of our caloric needs. Whole plant foods such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, and legumes provide complex carbohydrates and are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and fibre, which nourish our brain and other organs. Plants also produce what are known as phytochemicals, which give fruits and vegetables their rainbow of colours and provide natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. When we consume plant-based foods, we benefit from the protective effects of these natural phytochemicals.
The fibre present in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains slows the intestinal absorption of sugar, creating less of an insulin surge and a lower risk of developing diabetes and inflammation. Natural plant fibre also helps us feel full faster and satisfied for longer, which prevents us from overeating. Another important advantage of plant fibre is that it feeds our gut microbiome. The millions of micro bacteria that live in our lower intestine. A healthy, diverse microbiome helps our immune system fight infections and some cancers, and may help our brain to influence mood and cognitive activity.
Limiting refined sugar and processed foods in your daily diet and focusing on fresh, whole plant-based foods can help slow or prevent inflammation and cognitive decline and maximise brain function.
The brain performs many essential functions, including regulating our mental health and physical well-being. So work hard to keep it healthy and you will reap the positive results.
-Be careful when choosing what we eat, since our diet can have a huge impact on brain health. Eat foods rich in healthy nutrients!
-A healthy diet can improve our cognitive functions, such as our ability to concentrate, remember, learn, and think. We should also try to avoid or minimise the intake of foods rich in fats or sugars.
-A healthy diet will help your brain perform better, remember things more easily, and avoid quick changes in mood.
- Focus on 4 essential lifestyle factors to maintain optimal brain function. An easy way to remember them is with the letters E-A-S-Z:
1. EAT healthy food.
2. ACTIVATE your body and your brain.
3. Manage STRESS through mindfulness.
4. Get plenty of restful sleep (Z’s).