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As the old adage goes, “You are what you eat.” It’s well known that subsisting on a diet of unhealthy foods contributes to weight gain and a host of other diet-driven diseases, but have you ever thought about the impact your diet has on your brain?

While recent studies repeatedly demonstrate how our gut bacteria, called the microbiome, affect mood and practically every other bodily function, it’s important to understand that how we fuel our bodies affects our brain function in particular:

Your brain is always “on.” It takes care of your thoughts and movements, your breathing and heartbeat, your senses — it works hard 24/7, even while you’re asleep. This means your brain requires a constant supply of fuel. That “fuel” comes from the foods you eat — and what’s in that fuel makes all the difference. Put simply, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.[1]

We have been conditioned to understand that “junk” food – food that is overly processed or high in refined sugars — has a deleterious effect on our overall health and functioning and can add unwanted fat around our waistlines. That same junk food has also been shown to harm our brains, damage our bodies’ ability to produce insulin, and contribute to inflammatory diseases, as well as mood disorders such as depression.[2]

“A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health,” says Felice Jacka, President of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. “A healthy diet is protective and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.”[3]

The good news is, a diet high in fresh foods – vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and nuts and seeds – can help the brain generate the necessary cellular material to combat the ill effects of junk food. Moreover, a “clean” diet helps your body maintain a healthy gut microbiome. And since the gut and intestinal tract are the primary production centers of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates sleep, appetite, pain and mood, the healthier your gut is, the happier your brain will be.

The bottom line: It really is important to pay attention to what you eat and incorporate more fresh foods into your daily diet. To that end, nutritionists recommend keeping a “food and mood” diary in order to become aware of what you eat, to track diet changes and to become attuned to how you feel after adopting and maintaining a “clean” diet.

The results may very well surprise you, and your mood and waistline will most likely thank you!

[1] Selhub, E., M.D. (2015, November 16). Nutritional Psychiatry: Your brain on food. Harvard Health Blog.Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626.

[2] Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression. Ibid.

[3] Miller, K. (2015, August 20). Can What You Eat Affect Your Mental Health? WebMD.com. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20150820/food-mental-health#4.

 

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