By Kelly Lang, Holistic Health Coach & Co-op Wellness Educator
In the age of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, most people are making food choices based on how it will impact their physical health. Sadly, it may not be until one of these conditions surfaces that someone will even think of focusing on healthier eating. A person who is thin and physically healthy might feel like their food choices don’t make a whole lot of difference or they might believe that they can eat “whatever they want” since there is no weight gain or obvious affect on health.
The intellectual mind knows that eating healthier food is better for the body, but in the absence of physical symptoms, many people disregard this notion.
The missing consideration is that food affects more than just our physical health, and it is, in fact, a key influence on mood and mental capacity as well. Our brains, like any other organ, require nutrients for proper functioning.
The very brain chemicals that determine whether you feel happy or calm or focused or alert are dependent on nutrients to stimulate their release.
The challenge that you may face if you suffer from mood issues or lack of focus is that you may tend to crave foods that are lacking in nutrient content (like simple carbs, sugar, and caffeine). In truth, what your brain needs to feel better is quite likely to be exactly the opposite of the foods you are choosing. That is where the vicious cycle begins, as you eat foods that deny your brain of the nutrients needed, you continue to feel depressed or anxious or unfocused, and you continue to crave those same foods. It is true that comfort foods will cause you to feel better, temporarily, but they only perpetuate a cycle of dependence, not healing.
The first step to breaking this vicious cycle is just having the awareness that you can either choose to fortify your brain with nutrients or you can give in to cravings for food that makes you feel better temporarily while ultimately depleting you.
If you choose to fortify your brain, here are a few of the important nutrients to consider:
Protein supplies amino acids – critical for brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, GABA, etc.
These brain chemicals determine how you feel, act, and function. Protein also stabilizes blood sugar levels, which is a common factor in irritability and focus issues. Protein is found in various food sources, both animal and plant based.
Essential Fatty Acids, Especially Omega 3 Fats, are important for both brain development and brain structure, as well as neurotransmitter function. These are found in a variety of foods but the most common sources are fish (and fish oil), flax seed, chia seeds, and walnuts.
B Vitamins help fight depression and improve memory and overall brain function. Some great food sources include chicken, fish, eggs, beets, spinach and other dark leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. B12 can only be obtained from animal sources, so vegetarians and especially vegans may need to supplement to get this particular B vitamin.
Kelly is an Integrative Nutrition® Trained and Certified Health Coach, mother of four, and founder of Green Life Wellness, a holistic health coaching practice based in New Hampshire. Learn more at