7. Fuel Quality Impacts Performance
A car’s performance is optimal with the right fuel. Regardless of how good the car looks or its engine size, it won't work without the right fuel. If you were to put diesel in a petrol car, the engine would be in need of a full overhaul.
Our brain is a mere 2% of our body weight, but it uses 20% of our energy resources. When our stomach sends a hunger message to our brain, our stomach isn’t interested in nutrition. Its interest is in satisfying the hunger message. Performance is not high on its agenda. Yet, nutrition is fundamental to good energy supply, brain function, health and well-being. Nutrition is often overlooked when people have mental health concerns. Yet, the first signs of malnutrition are generally psychological.
Food is necessary to life. Our body can only survive for about 6 weeks without it. Yet, rather than performance, we find a variety of reasons to eat, besides indulging our appetite. We do eat when we are hungry, but we also eat for taste, for enjoyment and for energy. We eat at social occasions and celebrations. We eat when we are tired, thirsty, bored, for comfort, and the list goes on. Rarely does our brain decide what we require for performance. Rather, our nose and tongue generally dictate the type of food we eat.
The right nutrients maximise our potential, as nutrition directly affects IQ, learning, concentration, sleep and behaviour. Poor food choices or a lack of food can cause us to become sluggish, sad, irritable or anxious to mention just a few symptoms.
Fish is nature’s best source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. Salmon, Mackerel, Sardines, Herrings, Trout or any other cold water fish are high in omega-3 fats. Studies show that people who eat fish just once a week reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s by 60% and also reduce their risk of dementia and mood disorders.
Anti-inflammatory foods slow down cognitive and memory decline, and reduce inflammation in the brain. Inflammation is an innate response to injury, stress, illness, poor gut function and eating toxic foods (high-toxin, high-sugar, high-processed, high-gluten, etc.) which all induce an inflammatory response. When this response becomes the norm for our body, it becomes a low-level feature in our physiology and problems arise. A lack of knowledge, unmanaged stress and poor food choices can push people off the cliff of inflammation. David Perlmutter, M.D., a neurologist from Naples, Fla., has made a very strong case for inflammation as the primary contributor in Alzheimer's. In his words, “The brain is on fire.” Brain tissues affected by Alzheimer’s are rife with inflammatory chemicals.
Food and Mood
Our brain feeds on stable glucose or blood sugar levels and some people don't maintain these. When we have that low feeling, we have a lot of physiological symptoms. Feeling uncomfortable in our body due to low blood sugar may be interpreted by our brain as anxiety (I feel shaky or scared - I must be anxious) or exhaustion (I can't get up off the couch - I must be depressed).
Our brain functions best with routines or patterns. Ensuring we eat regular meals every 4 - 5 hours will provide a steady energy flow to the brain and establish good habits.
Food is best digested when we are relaxed, not stressed. Food should be well chewed to release saliva and digestive juices. Mealtimes are a great time for the family to connect and talk over the day, not to sit in front of the TV or computer mindlessly shoveling in food.
Eating regular meals provides a steady stream of energy, rather than high sugar foods which give a spike, followed by a slump. Protein throughout the day will also boost brain chemistry. For example, chicken, eggs and fish provide the building blocks for serotonin & dopamine, which help with calmness, happiness and motivation. Sadly, serotonin & dopamine can't be made from ice cream. : (
Folic Acid - Sometimes people who are diagnosed with depression have lower levels of Folic Acid. A deficiency may cause dementia or cognitive problems. To combat this, eat lots of leafy greens like spinach and kale; dark green vegetables; soy beans; sunflower seeds; oranges and beetroot.
Sugar, Processed Foods and Gluten are Three Mood-Busting Foods to Avoid. Just as foods can uplift your mood, they can also quickly bring it down. The top three foods that can trigger a poor mood are Sugar, Processed Foods and Gluten.
Sugar - Refined Sugars are essentially just carbohydrates robbed of nutrients. Sugar is addictive and can be a hard habit to break. Avoid foods that are loaded in simple sugars, such as Soft drinks, Chocolate bars, Lollies and Fruit Juices which can create radical spikes and drops in blood sugar.
Sugar can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar, which can bring on mood swings, but its role in poor mood actually goes much deeper than that. Entire books have been written on this topic, such as William Duffy’s book, Sugar Blues. There are at least three potential mechanisms through which refined sugar intake could exert a toxic effect on our mood and mental health: Sugar (particularly fructose) and grains contribute to insulin and leptin resistance and impaired signaling, which play a significant role in our mental health.
Sugar suppresses the activity of BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), which promotes the health of our brain neurons. BDNF levels are critically low in both depression and schizophrenia, which animal models suggest might actually be causative. Sugar consumption also triggers a cascade of chemical reactions in our body that promote chronic inflammation. In the long term, inflammation disrupts the normal functioning of our immune system which is linked to a greater risk of depression.
Processed Foods - The list of potentially mood-busting ingredients in processed foods is a long one. Aside from sugar and gluten, they may also contain transfats, artificial colours, monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial sweeteners and other synthetic ingredients linked to irritability and poor mood. Transfats are especially widely used. We may see them in margarine, biscuits, cakes, frozen meals, fried foods, sweets, chips, fish fingers and many dairy products. Saturated Fats (most animal fats) are unhealthy as they 'clog' up the arteries causing heart disease.
Avoid Chemical Food Additives - especially preservatives and colourings
Gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley, may negatively impact mood and brain health. In fact, a number of studies indicate that wheat can have a detrimental effect on mood, promoting depression and even more serious mental health problems such as schizophrenia. One mechanism that can help explain the mysterious connection between wheat and mental health problems is the fact that wheat inhibits the production of serotonin.
The greatest concentration of the Neurotransmitter, serotonin, is found in our gut, not our brain! Serotonin is involved in mood control, depression and aggression. Wheat, in particular, has been implicated in psychiatric problems, from depression to schizophrenia. Preliminary research indicates that wheat is responsible for neuro-toxic activity.
White flour foods like white breads, crackers, cakes and biscuits metabolise very quickly and will sky-rocket our blood sugar levels. Soon after, we have a drop and tumble effect, so we won't feel great.
It's important to make smart carbohydrate choices like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes which also contribute important nutrients and fibre.
'I now know that my diet of fatty, sweet fast foods and the fact that I did not eat more than one meal per day was a major cause of my diagnosed anxiety and depression which lead to my multiple suicide attempts"