By Sindhujaa for The Times of India & The Economic Times
The food you consume doesn’t just shape your body, but also shapes your brain.
The brain’s only source of nourishment comes from the food you choose to eat. 20% of your calorie intake goes straight to the brain. Amongst all the organs in our body, the one most drastically affected from a poor diet – is the brain. The very construction of your brain cells depend on your nutrition, and so does the brain’s daily performance.
A healthy diet has been declared as a key factor in preventing brain-related diseases such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s. That apart, your everyday mental and emotional performance is dependant on your daily eating habits to a massive extent. Think about it. How do you feel after a heavy, fat-and-carbohydrate-rich lunch such as large quantities of rice or pizza? The hormones and neurotransmitters triggered by such meals will most certainly leave you feeling sleepy, lethargic and foggy. This has a direct impact on your mental (or work-related) performance for the day. A sluggish brain cannot exactly ideate like a genius, nor execute like a star! An undernourished brain does not bolster memory, analytical skills, complex reasoning, focus, productivity or creativity- all elements which are crucial for professionals in today’s fast paced and competitive business environment. What’s more, every meal that you take in – triggers either the happy hormones (such as dopamine) or stress hormones (such as cortisol). When hormonal imbalances occur, there’s a direct influence on your nervous system and emotional state, provoking serious mood swings and negative feelings such as anxiety and depression. It goes without saying that these are going to have repercussions in your career, as well as personal life. Processed and junk food can also cause Gut Dysbiosis – a situation where the beneficial bacteria in our gut are replaced by harmful bacteria which thrive on junk food. These organisms, which don’t really belong in our systems, can cause mayhem in our mind-body health. They are known to release neurotoxins – toxic biochemicals that impact our brain and thinking patterns in very negative ways, leading to a host of emotional issues such as irritability, panic, depression, feelings of loss of meaning and connection in life etc. There can be a general sense of confusion in the mind which hampers our decision-making abilities. For an entrepreneur, that can translate to a profit loss, not to mention that life starts to lose vitality. Harvard has revealed that a nutrient-rich diet can reduce depression by 35%! That’s a very significant statistic. It implies that your food habits affect your mental health by 35%! A combination of good nutrition plus fitness has been proven to have even greater efficacy on mental and emotional well-being. One of the most critical points that you need to become aware of is this: the mental and emotional effects your meals have on you are not temporary. What you regularly eat has long-term effects on your brain ageing and functioning. Think about this. If a meal triggers negative bio-chemical responses in your body (that directly affect your brain, nervous system and emotional cognition), what happens if you flood your system with the same negative hormones and neurotransmitters day after day after day? You will end up releasing a continuous stream of stress biochemicals, that’s permanently residing in your body, to make you grumpy, tired or depressed every single day. Over time, we human beings can start believing that this is out CHARACTER AND IDENTITY, failing to realize that the negativity is just a result of poor food choices. Food, as most people don’t realize, indeed has life-altering effects. The good news is that, this can be corrected and we can give ourselves a mind-body reset by converting to healthier lifestyle choices and nutrition habits. Medical imaging and genetic studies have revealed that some foods are neuro-protective and lead to cognitive repair, especially when combined with fitness, good sleep-patterns and better stress management. Here are the key aspects of a brain-healthy diet: 1) Eliminate artificial colours, flavours, sweeteners and carbonated drinks. 2) Minimize processed sugars, processed foods, refined oils 3) Limit caffeine and alcohol 4) Most of your diet should consist of fresh vegetables, fruits and nuts, preferably organic. Unsweetened dark chocolate is also great brain food. 5) Organic whole grains in limited quantities are acceptable. Carbohydrates are not the enemy. Coming from whole, natural sources, in the right quantities, consumed along with fiber, is one of the key staples of healthy centenarians across the world! 6) Omega – 3’s are crucial for cognitive repair 7) Organic lean meats, mainly fish and poultry, are good. Optimally, opt for 3 to 7 such meals a week. 8) Hydrate – the brain is 80% water, and needs water for every reaction that takes place! Mineral-rich water is preferable. As a society, we need to stop isolating mental health and physical health. There has been astounding empirical data from the world’s most credible research institutes such as Harvard and W.H.O, over the last 20 years, on the mind-body connection, and the link between physical and emotional wellness. When you meet your body and mind with solidarity and respect, you protect and propel your health, happiness and achievements. - By Sindhujaa Kumar, MD (A.M)