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Brain Power: How Food Affects Your Mind and Mood

Brain Power: How Food Affects Your Mind and Mood

You’ve likely heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” Studies show this may be true. We’re learning more about the connections between our food and how it affects our bodies—including our brains. Whether you choose a fast-food hamburger or a healthy salad to-go, the food you eat can impact your thinking and even your mood.

The Brain Train

Your brain is working for you, 24/7. Think of it as a computer or the engine of a car. Your brain drives all of your body’s systems and functions, but that engine needs fuel to power you through your day. And that “fuel” is the food you eat.

How Are You Fueling Your Brain?

High-quality “fuel” helps your brain function at its best. Foods with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourish your brain and protect it from oxidative stress, which is is an imbalance between the production of free radicals (molecules with one or more unpaired electron) and antioxidants (substances that neutralize or remove free radicals by donating an electron) in the body, which can lead to cell and tissue damage. 

On the flip side, low-quality “fuel” can damage your brain and its functions. Processed or refined foods (including refined sugar, for example) fall into this category. These foods diminish your ability to regulate insulin and increase inflammation and oxidative stress. In fact, many studies found links between sugary diets and impaired brain function—and even mood disorders such as depression.

Studies in this area are known as nutritional psychiatry. This is a growing field unexplored for many years. So how do researchers and doctors know which foods affect our overall brain health? Simple: they follow the food we eat. And it all starts in the gut.

A Gut Check

Your "gut health" refers to good bacteria that lives in your digestive system - and here’s the interesting twist: researchers have found that 95% of your serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate your body’s sleep and appetite, control moods, and prevent pain.

Our gut health does much more than digest food, but it also impacts our emotional and mental health.

The “good” bacteria found in your intestines are hard workers. Good bacteria can:

  • protect you from toxins and “bad” bacteria
  • limit inflammation
  • better absorb nutrients from food
  • activate neural pathways between the gut and brain

Brain Food

So what foods are best for your brain? Check out these helpful resources, including recipes from our friends at LiveWell Frederick, for inspiration that can be found in your kitchen, at the grocery store, and—most importantly—in your gut:

We want you—and your gut—healthy, Frederick. If you have any questions about healthy foods or need nutrition counseling, learn more about our Nutrition & Weight Management services.