Food and the Mind

If you have ever heard the term “stress eating,” then you should know it’s not just something that was made up. In fact, the mind plays a pretty significant role when it comes to the way we perceive food and the thought process behind eating, as hunger is partially controlled by part of your brain known as the hypothalamus; and while the research surrounding food and things like stress and depression is still considered to be somewhat inconclusive, there are still suggestions that there may be strong links.

As mentioned, hunger is controlled by the hypothalamus. This is the part of the brain that regulates everything from body temperature to sleep cycles, and other autonomic nervous system functions. In addition, hunger is also controlled by certain hormone levels in the body, blood glucose levels, and how empty the stomach and intestines are. When you feel hungry, this is the sensation you have when your brain is telling you that your stomach is empty, and you want/need to eat. When you’re no longer hungry, this is your stomach sending a signal to your brain that it is full. This is also a sensation that is controlled by hypothalamus. It’s also possible for the hypothalamus to malfunction. When this occurs, you can develop a wide range of health problems and symptoms including thyroid problems, headaches, weight loss, as well as have a poor appetite.

Along with improving our physical health, the foods we eat can also provide us with more energy, clear that feeling of “brain fog”, and ultimately improve our moods. Therefore, having a healthy diet isn’t just important for the body, but it can be equally as important for the mind as well.

First and foremost, you shouldn’t skip meals. Breakfast being one of the most important meals of the day isn’t just a myth, as it’s the meal that actually helps get us through our day. One study conducted by the Food Research and Action Center found a correlation between performance at school and breakfast among children. Those who didn’t eat breakfast before class were found to be more likely to have trouble learning, as well as have behavioural problems, while those who ate breakfast on a regular basis had less behavioural issues and an easier time learning new things, as well as improved grades. They also had an increase in their ability to focus in addition to their energy levels; while a Swiss study found that individuals who ate breakfasts rich in protein (which contain amino acids that help regulate thoughts and feelings) also had higher cognitive performance compared to those who either didn’t eat breakfast or ate a breakfast that was higher in carbohydrates.

Fruits and vegetables are also important to include as part of your healthy eating plan as they are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre – all of which we need to not only help keep us in good physical health, but mentally healthy as well. By incorporating a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables in your diet, you’ll be getting a variety of the most important nutrients that you need regularly. Fats are also something the brain needs. Healthy fats, such as omega-3’s and omega-6’s to be more specific. Healthy fats can be found in things like poultry fish, nuts, seeds, milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, as well as olive and sunflower oils.

Something people also often forget to consider when it comes to keeping the mind clear is how important hydration is. When you aren’t getting enough fluid intake, you can become dehydrated which can lead to poor concentration, so I recommend drinking at least 6 to 8 glasses of fluid (water, in particular) per day to keep your hydration levels where they need to be. If you’re after a quick boost of energy, then another beverage you can try is coffee. However, keep in mind that coffee contains caffeine, which is a stimulant, and drinking too much of it could potentially leave you feeling anxious or even disrupt your ability to sleep.