Eat well for better brain health |23 September 2022
For most of us there isn’t much thought given to what we choose to eat each day. Our daily routine is the same.
Wake up, get ready, rush out the door to try and beat traffic and for most of us breakfast at home doesn’t quite make it in there. So we stop at the closest shop and buy a soft drink, a samosa or cake and that’s our first meal of the day.
The morning habit however seems to extend to other parts of the day too. Lunch is something quick – a burger or chicken and chips and by the time dinner comes around we’ve already had some crisps, more soft drinks and some form of sweet.
After a hard day at work we tell ourselves that ‘just for today’ we will make something easy and out pops some sausages or luncheon meat.
But in all of this we never really question what’s going on inside our body because as long as we are okay physically then all must be well. Or is it?
You are what you eat
That statement goes beyond just your physical health but also the very much overlooked mental side of it.
Many of us underestimate how important our brain is. Our brain is one of the most important organs in the body as it influences how other organs work. Providing the brain with energy and nutrients that it needs is crucial for it to work effectively and can be achieved with a diverse diet.
A diverse diet basically means that you’re eating a wide variety of whole foods from different food groups to provide the body with essential macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, fat) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) it needs. This is illustrated by the Seychelles food guide below.
Whole grains (e.g. brown rice, oats, bulgur) and local starches like breadfruit and sweet potatoes provides carbohydrates, dietary fibre, as well as vitamins and minerals, many of which have antioxidant properties. These foods should be included in all main meals as they provide the much needed energy for the brain to carry out its day-to-day activities.
Fish, chicken, eggs, legumes (beans and lentils), nuts and seeds as well as milk products provide protein which is important for tissue repairs and formation of substances like enzymes and hormones that connects the brain to other systems in the body.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that act as antioxidants protecting brain cells from harmful chemicals. Include a variety of fruits and vegetables of different colours for even more health benefits.
A small amount of oils and healthy fats provides essential fatty acids such as omega-3-fatty acids, that are important for the structure of brain cells.
A nutritious diet is vital for our mental health but we should also be mindful of what can actually have a negative impact on our brain.
Highly processed foods
Unfortunately, many of us are reliant on highly processed foods in our diet which are devoid of essential nutrients and high in sugars, salt and saturated fats.
This negatively impacts on our brain structure and function due to the amount of damage done by harmful chemicals formed (free radicals) which cause oxidative stress and inflammation.
With the way we live nowadays whereby most people are already stressed by something – be it work or family problems, this sort of damage can do a lot of harm when we link it to mental illnesses. It can therefore increase your risk of mood disorders, anxiety and depression.
Highly processed foods are addictive due to the amount of additives in them. The more processed foods you eat, the more your brain craves for these foods.
The best way out of this vicious cycle is to significantly reduce the amount of these foods in your diet. Although you may not want to get rid of them completely try to eat them occasionally rather than daily.
Another big problem in our society today beyond the scope of what we’re talking about is alcohol. Many people turn to alcohol for comfort when they are stressed or feeling down only to find that with time the symptoms worsen, eventually leading to binge alcohol consumption.
If you are experiencing anxiety, depression, stress or any mood disorders then it may be best to abstain from alcohol. For those who choose to drink then drink in moderation – not more than two units a day.
The gut-brain connection
Research continues to pile up on the link between our brain and our gut (our gastrointestinal system). Our brain is connected to our gut via an intricate system of nerves which allows them to communicate with one another. While the gut is able to influence emotional behaviour in the brain, the brain can also alter the type of microorganisms living in the gut.
There is evidence that the gut microbiome (bacteria, yeasts, fungi) produces an array of neurochemicals that the brain uses for the regulation of physiological and mental processes, including mood.
It’s important therefore to nourish your gut (and microbiome) with nutritious foods for not only better gut health but for better brain health.
Thank you for joining us this week on our Eat for Our Health page. Look us up on social media - Eat for our health Seychelles on Facebook and @eat4ourhealth on Instagram.
And don’t forget to drop us a little email to email@example.com and let us know how you’re doing with these ideas, or better still, share your favourite dishes or tips.
Yours in health
The E4OH Team