A quick summary:
- The food you eat, feeds your brain
- Nutrition impacts our gut bacteria, which in turn influences our mood and behaviour
- Diets don't work. Smart, small manageable habit changes do
We all intuitively appreciate that a healthy diet can make you look good, and you may be aware of the benefits for physical performance, but what about how it shapes your mental fitness?
Nutrition is the very bedrock that supports a well functioning brain, which makes us feel focused, in control and productive.
In its simplest form, the food you eat, feeds your brain and becomes the very fabric of your thoughts, mood, feelings and actions.
Times like COVID, when things feel out of control, it is even more essential to nourish our brains and ensure mental resilience. However, when you feel low, eating right is the last thing you want to do — even though it's the very thing that you need to do — ugh!
As January beckons a "new year, new me", you may have already given your diet some thought. Chances are, your resolutions have had a slow start as we're all feeling particularly attached to the comfort of Christmas and dreaming of mince pies! But maybe this slow start has been a good thing. There are so many 30 day diet plans promising instant results that rarely last, and in fact, they could be causing more nutrient deficiencies that damage your mental fitness.
Improving mental fitness takes consistency, but not necessarily a lot of time each day. A simple change to your breakfast can rewrite the script for how you feel that day. Take it one step at a time with small, manageable changes that truly help your brain thrive, and feel the virtue of taking it slow!
Here are our top three health hacks for optimising mental fitness so you can reach new heights!
1. Nourish your gut
The microbiome is our second brain and impacts our mood and energy levels
Increasingly, research has shown that our microbiome has the ability to influence our mood and behaviour.
The microbiome, our second brain, is a term used to describe the trillions of bacteria that reside in our gut. This community of bacteria influences our brain chemistry by directly communicating through the gut brain axis, also known as the vagus nerve. There are no secrets between the gut and brain — when the gut is healthy, the brain is happy!
90% of our serotonin - happiness hormones , lie in our gut
This comes as no surprise as 90% of our body's serotonin is found in our gut. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel happy. Our gut serotonin sends “feel good” messages to our brain, but this process is delicately controlled by our microbiome. So in exchange for that "feel good factor", you need to keep your gut in tip top shape.
Here's how :
- Avoid processed food and sugar
- Eat probiotic, fermented food like sauerkraut and kefir
- Nourish your gut with collagen (bone broth) and prebiotic fibre (asparagus, artichoke, onions and garlic)
2. Balance your blood sugar
Nutrition restores metabolic pathways and returns the (complete) body-mind to its optimal state
Dr. Sethi Dalai, Director of Metabolic Psychiatry at Stanford University, explains that nutrition restores metabolic pathways and returns the (complete) body-mind to its optimal state, also called homeostasis.
"There are higher rates of nutritional deficiencies and insulin resistance among psychiatric patients, and similarly, those with obesity have higher rates of mental health problems — the mind-body relationship is very much bidirectional"
Blood sugar imbalances are causing your energy dips and brain fog
Here's a typical situation. You eat a fruit smoothie, porridge or bagel and feel pretty good — hey there dopamine (our feel good neurotransmitter)! About an hour later it feels as though the world is moving 100 miles an hour and you're walking through deep mud. This is shortly followed with irritability, headaches, lightheadedness and anxiety — your loved ones will know to give you a wide berth right about now! You feel uncomfortable in your own skin, so you grab a snack for relief — it instantly makes you feel better with more dopamine. But of course, it’s only temporary.
This is what we call blood sugar imbalance, a common health issue that you may recognise in yourself.
Here's what's happening on the inside. Carbohydrates are metabolised into sugar and enter the bloodstream. This causes a surge in blood glucose, which you may experience as tiredness and 'brain fog'. To counter the blood sugar rise, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin shuttles the glucose into the cells for energy, and blood glucose plummets. A sudden dip in blood glucose makes you feel irritable and anxious. The antidote is a snack, usually one that gives you an extra ride on the sugar rollercoaster — carbohydrates and sugar.
This is not a normal metabolic response, but it is surprisingly easy to correct! Ultimately, the harder you hit the carbs, the harder you fall, so one solution is to reduce your carbohydrate consumption, especially from processed foods and other simple forms of carbs, and choose nutrient dense fat and protein foods, instead.
Here's a few quick swaps for breakfast.
- Porridge => chia pudding
- Fruit smoothie => fat bomb smoothie
- Bagel => eggs and veg and/or flaxseed bread
3. Nourish your brain
Don't let common nutrient deficiencies ( B12, magnesium, Vit D & Zinc) cloud your brain
Just like the rest of the body and organs, a poor diet promotes a malnourished, inflamed and imbalanced brain.
Fats (our brain is 60% fat!), vitamin B12, vitamin D, magnesium and zinc are particularly important for optimal mental fitness. A deficiency in any of these can act as a 'psychological pretenders', causing you to feel tired, anxious, depressed, foggy and forgetful.
Feed your brain for success
Feed your brain with these key, nutrient dense foods
- Meat and offal
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Leafy greens and brassicas
If you want to optimise your health & fitness, we recommend trying the Span app, which you can access on the Heka app here.
With a registered nutritionist available to chat when you need, it makes learning what works for you simple and accessible.
Then, they help you build nutrition and biohacking habits that work into your routine.