Written by Amanda Leach, MS, RD, LD, CLT
Absolutely! Our brain chemicals are produced from the nutrients we get from our food. When these chemicals are out of balance you can feel restless, irritable, forgetful, and even have trouble paying attention. If you struggle with any of these things there may be dietary changes that could help improve your brain. For instance, eating in a way that helps keep your blood sugar steady can help keep you mentally sharp and your mood stable. Low blood sugars can make you feel jittery, irritable, and anxious. High blood sugar can destroy brain cells and damage blood vessels in the brain, which can impact the blood flow to the brain. This can contribute to a decline in attention and memory. Eating consistently throughout the day and combining fiber-rich carbohydrates together with protein (such as an apple with almond butter) can help keep your blood sugars balanced.
The foods you eat can also help in repairing your brain and keeping it in good condition. Colorful vegetables and fruits contain compounds called phytonutrients. Many of these phytonutrients can help protect cells in your body and brain from damage because they help combat inflammation and work as anti-oxidants. Anthocyanins are just one of these phytonutrient compounds that have been found to help decrease inflammation, as well as enhance neural and mental function. Anthocyanins are found in dark red/purple/blue fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, beets, cherries, and purple cabbage.
Sometimes nutritional deficiencies can impact our brain as well. Take zinc for example. Zinc is a mineral our body requires, which is found in foods such as beef, poultry, and oysters. If you do not eat enough zinc-rich foods, have problems with absorption, or have an increased need you could become deficient. Zinc deficiency has been associated with mental disturbances and impaired congnitive functions. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include poor wound healing, skin problems such as acne, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis, white spots on the fingernails, and depression. It’s usually safe to increase your intake of zinc rich foods, but taking a supplement should be done cautiously and under the care of a knowledgable provider. One reason for that is because zinc being a “goldilocks” nutrient. Too little is not good for the reasons just mentioned and too much can weaken the immune system. Zinc needs to be “just right” and balanced. Nutritional testing can be a good option to see if you are deficient in some nutrients or have too many of another that could be contributing to mood related disorders or impaired health.
As you can see your brain is affected in multiple different ways by what you eat.
A registered dietitian can help design a food plan that addresses your individual and special health needs. Getting nutrition advise from a registered dietitian can be invaluable to optimizing your physical health as well as your brain health.