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Are We What We Eat? Nutritional Psychiatry and Brain Health


Jun. 6, 2022 Psychology Today

Many folks start their day with a cup (or two or three) of coffee and that’s about it. They try to make it to lunch, perhaps inhaling a muffin if they are really hungry. But our bodies and brains in these situations are starving for proper nutrition. Research from nutritional psychiatry suggests there is much we can do to improve upon this situation. Here are a few principles that you may find helpful.

1. While our brains are only 2% of our body weight, they consume 20% to 25% of our energy when we’re active (Wilson, 2022). Our brains need sustenance, and if not fed properly, they go hungry. Nutrition has powerful impacts on our health in general, and brain health, specifically. We need to feed it regularly and nutritiously to be our best.

2. What we eat is strongly connected to brain and mood health. It matters what we put in our bodies. Some foods are high in antioxidants and help our body to protect itself from free radicals and oxidative processes, thereby reducing inflammation. In contrast, some foods cause inflammation, which has been linked to incidence of cancer and also mood disorders like depression. Poor and irregular eating can lead to drops in blood sugar, irritability, and struggles with cognitive performance (Wilson, 2022). We can become easily stressed, anxious, and confused when our brains are not properly fed. What are some examples of foods we should be getting more of?

3. Eat more fish. Fatty fish, like cod, trout, Alaskan salmon, mackerel, and herring are highly recommended by nutritionists. Why? There are good kinds of fats and bad kinds of fats, and fatty fish are rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids that are essential fats (i.e., our bodies do not produce on their own). Omega-3s work to decrease inflammation and cut the risk of heart disease. They’re important for prenatal development in babies, too. At least two servings of these fatty fish per week are recommended by nutritionists and dieticians (Wilson, 2022). Because I really like all of these fish, I initially thought I must be doing well in consuming the recommended portions; a review of my eating habits in the past month revealed that I eat only about three portions a month. (By the way, avoid fish with high levels of mercury contamination, such as swordfish, king mackerel, shark, and tilefish). Baked and broiled fish are healthier than fried. Folks often find themselves eating burgers, steak, and tacos, but it’s a good idea to mix it up and have healthier options every week, as these foods are high in cholesterol and saturated fats, are highly inflammatory, and, eaten to excess, are terrible for your heart.

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