Why nutrition is important for the brain - Food for the Brain

The brain is the most energy-hungry organ in the body. Despite the fact that it weighs just 1.5kg, it steals roughly 25% of the body’s energy requirements. It is therefore dependent on a second-to-second supply of energy, which is only provided by the food we eat. Much like a performance car, the brain functions best when it runs on premium fuel. 

When we think of food, we think of it as being enjoyable and providing energy and building blocks for the body. However, research is starting to recognise the important role food and dietary factors play on specific molecular systems and the mechanisms that preserve our mental function1. As science has advanced, we’ve been able to identify how food not only influences energy metabolism, but also neuroplasticity (i.e. our brain’s ability to change and reorganise itself in response to injury and learning experiences)1, which is an important factor in the evolution of the modern brain. 

One of the most significant examples of the role of nutrition in mental health, is that almost 90% of serotonin (commonly referred to as the ‘happy chemical’, as it helps contribute to happiness and wellbeing) is made in the gastrointestinal tract, which contains tens of trillions of microorganisms, including at least 1000 different species of bacteria. These bacteria help to make neurotransmitters and help protect us against toxins, harmful bacteria, limit inflammation and help us absorb nutrients from food. There’s ‘bidirectional’ (meaning two-way) communication between the gut and the brain, so much so, the gut has been called‘ the second brain’. 

Dietary patterns that are supportive of good mental health include the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet. The commonalities between these two diets include: high amounts of vegetables, fruit, unprocessed grains, fish, seafood and modest amounts of lean meat and dairy. There’s also a distinct lack of processed and refined carbohydrate foods, which are more common in a “Western” diet. These diets also include probiotic-rich foods (i.e. miso, tempeh, yogurt), which help to inoculate our guts with beneficial bacteria.

Nutrients such as omega-3 fats, B vitamins, phospholipids, choline and plant antioxidants, including vitamin E and C, have all been demonstrated as beneficial in improving cognitive function and vital for the makeup of the brain’s cell structures. The body cannot make many of these nutrients at all or in sufficient quantities, so it’s important to ensure we obtain abundant amounts in our diets regularly. 

If you’d like to find out more about how nutrition can support your symptoms, have a look at our condition-specific guidance below: 

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/pdf/nihms162299.pdf

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