There are the most sophisticated and highly coordinated biochemical reactions happening behind every single act in your body.
For this, your body needs various biochemicals that ideally should be present in your food.
If these biochemicals are missing the reactions are going wrong or cannot happen at all. This can lead to the disruption of processes in the body.
So, you need to take care of having a nutrient-rich diet to keep your body and mind healthy and fit.
Your brain consists mostly of water and fat. That means that drinking a lot of WATER is important for your health and especially for the health of the brain.
The brain is the fattiest organ of the human body. Healthy fats serve as building blocks for your cells and the neural cells of your brain.
Include products containing healthy fat in your diet, such as fatty fish, seeds and nuts, eggs, and avocados.
Essential fatty acids in form of fish oil are one of the supplements that support the healthy functioning of your brain.
Flaxseeds or flaxseed oil are not suitable sources of essential fatty acids because of the low conversion rates of plant fatty acids in human bodies.
But Algal oil supplements can be a good option for vegetarians.
Magnesium and Zinc
Magnesium is an important element for brain health and proper sleep as well as zinc. Low levels of Magnesium are associated with anxiety whereas low levels of zinc are related to depression.
Both can be obtained with nutrient-rich foods like
- nuts, avocados, green leafy vegetables for magnesium and
- meat, seafood, and nuts for zinc.
If you decide to take Magnesium supplements:
- Do not take magnesium oxide. It is poorly absorbed by our bodies.
- Take magnesium citrate if you tend to constipate
- Take magnesium bis-glycinate if you tend to have diarrhea.
Read more about different forms of magnesium and their effect here.
Also in the case of zinc, an organic salt like citrate or bis-glycinate is a much better choice with a high level of absorption in human bodies.
Take magnesium supplements in the evening before going to bed.
Vitamin D plays important role in different biochemical processes including those in the human brain. And vitamin D deficiency is shown to be related to depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Vitamin D is made in your skin exposed to sunlight.
Spending a certain period of time outside in the daylight we produce a sufficient amount of our own vitamin D. But this is mostly valid for the warm and sunny period of the year.
Because of the climate and our indoor living style, Vitamin D deficiency is very common in middle and northern Europe, particularly in winter.
Only a few foods provide us with additional vitamin D, for example, fatty fish and fish liver. Therefore it often needs to be supplemented in dark and/or rainy times of the year.
If you decide to supplement Vitamin D choose formulas containing fat and additionally, vitamin K. Those are best absorbed in the human body.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid which means that it is used in the body as a building block for proteins, that is not synthesized in the human body but needs to be ingested with food.
The human body uses tryptophan to build the happiness hormone serotonin as well as neurotransmitters, molecules that are used for communication between neural cells of the brain.
Therefore tryptophan plays an important role in the health and disease of the brain. It is known that a tryptophan-rich diet can elevate moods and reduce the chance of anxiety, irritability, and depression.
Products rich in tryptophan are seeds, nuts, meat, fish, eggs, oats, etc.
Foods to Avoid
Sugar and Brain
The brain consumes high amounts of energy for its functions. About 20% of all energy in your body is used by the brain though it weighs less than 1.5 kg, about 2% of the body weight.
The main source of energy for the brain is sugar. So it is not surprising that your brain loves sugar and has special rewarding mechanisms for sugar intake.
Both the sweet taste registered in the mouth as well as the presence of sugar in the stomach activate independent mechanisms in the brain demanding more sugar.
At the same time, excessive sugar consumption suppresses the satiety mechanism, the release of the satiety hormone ghrelin and in the long term, can dysregulate it completely.
These mechanisms were very useful for the survival of our human ancestors in scarce conditions but nowadays they often cause problems. It was shown in experiments with rodents that sugar can cause addiction comparable to the drugs of abuse. Sugar can trigger overeating and binge eating and lead to being overweight and even obese.
High sugar intake even in the absence of obesity supports inflammation in the body and brain. And inflammation is linked to chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and others.
Higher sugar intake and inflammation processes have also been associated with the impaired cognitive function of the brain, like memory. Increased carbohydrate intake is directly linked to mild cognitive impairment or dementia in elderly people, and was negatively associated with nonverbal intelligence tests in school children.
With the help of the calculator to the right, you can estimate your obvious and hidden sugar daily intake.
Sugar Intake Calculator
Processed and Fast Foods
A combination of high-sugar and high-fat content which is typical for processed foods is especially tasteful and triggers a strong rewarding mechanism.
The combination of fat and sugar causes the strongest weight gain too.
Your brain and body benefit greatly from exchanging processed foods for fresh and freshly prepared food.
Binge drinking and heavy alcohol use are associated with poorer cognitive functioning on a broad range of neuropsychological assessments, like
- visuospatial functioning,
- psychomotor speed,
- executive functioning,
- and impulsivity.
Alcohol use is associated with accelerated decreases in gray matter.
At the same time, moderate consumption of red wine is well known for its health benefits – protection of the cardiovascular system and prevention of chronic diseases.
Lifestyle for Brain Wellbeing
Sleep is a phase of the day when the body and brain do not just rest but also repair and heal. Sleep is therefore nature’s restorer.
But sleep is also an important phase of brain activity when information, impressions, and emotions of the day get processed, memories get consolidated.
Healthy sleep is an uninterrupted, deep, and restful sleep of 7 to 9 hours duration. Such sleep needs to be maintained consistently as sleeping in on the weekends does not allow make it up for the deficiency during the week.
Mental issues like worries, fears, anxiety, and depression can cause sleep issues and these sleep issues will worsen the mental state. So, it is important to improve your sleep in order to recover faster.
Sufficient Sunlight Exposure
Exposure to sunlight has a profound effect on the well-being and health of the brain and body.
Sunlight exposure directly regulates your circadian rhythms – improves sleep and wake quality, supports hormonal balance, and through those can affect every other function of your body, elevates and maintains good moods.
Contrary, artificial light exposure during the night negatively affects your moods. Also, sensitive people suffer in the darker period of the year from seasonal mood disorders.
Nutrient-rich Hunter-Gatherer Diet
The modern hunter-gatherer diet is low in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and rich in variety and amounts of vegetables. This powerful combination is rich in nutrients.
The modern hunter-gatherer diet does not only cover the needs of nerve cells as well as other organs but can even reverse chronic diseases. I write more about it (Wahls protocol) in the story of my Hashimoto remission.
Regular Exercise and Practices
Physical exercise affects both body and the brain. Exercise alone stimulates the brain and can alleviate anxiety and fears.
- Complex biochemical reactions happen behind each and every activity in your body.
- Those reactions can only take place if you provide your body with nutrient-rich foods, like green leafy vegetables, fish, seeds and nuts, eggs, and meat.
- Your brain especially requires water, and fats including essential fatty acids, vitamin D, magnesium, zinc, and tryptophan.
- Supplementation of these components in addition to a nutrient-rich diet can be meaningful.
- Avoid sugar, processed and fast food, as well as alcohol.
- Adopt a healthy wake and sleep routine, get sufficient sunlight exposure, consume nutrient-rich foods, and get regular exercise and mental practices.
What nutrient rich-foods mentioned above do you need to include more in your diet?
- Clara R. Freeman, Amna Zehra, Veronica Ramirez, Corinde E. Wiers, Nora D. Volkow, Gene-Jack Wang. Impact of sugar on the body, brain, and behavior. Front. Biosci. (Landmark Ed) 2018, 23(12), 2255–2266. https://doi.org/10.2741/4704
- Bandelow B, Reitt M, Röver C, Michaelis S, Görlich Y, Wedekind D. Efficacy of treatments for anxiety disorders: a meta-analysis. Int Clin Psychopharmacol. 2015 Jul;30(4):183-92. doi: 10.1097/YIC.0000000000000078. PMID: 25932596.
- Lees B, Meredith LR, Kirkland AE, Bryant BE, Squeglia LM. Effect of alcohol use on the adolescent brain and behavior. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2020 May;192:172906. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2020.172906. Epub 2020 Mar 13. PMID: 32179028; PMCID: PMC7183385.
- Snopek L, Mlcek J, Sochorova L, Baron M, Hlavacova I, Jurikova T, Kizek R, Sedlackova E, Sochor J. Contribution of Red Wine Consumption to Human Health Protection. Molecules. 2018 Jul 11;23(7):1684. doi: 10.3390/molecules23071684. PMID: 29997312; PMCID: PMC6099584.