When it comes to what we put on our plates, we’re often thinking in terms of how the food affects our hearts, our waistlines and possibly the environment, too. But we don’t often think of how it impacts our brains, mood and energy levels. And it turns out, we often eat things that cause inflammation in the gut and as a result, the brain and the body have less energy available.
Dr. Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist, brain expert and faculty member at Harvard Medical School explains that the gut and the brain are in constant two-way communication and the health of one directly influences the health of the other. She advises avoiding these foods that contribute to chronic inflammation and can make us tired and stressed:
- Processed foods - Common culprits include baked goods and sodas, which are full of refined and added sugars and can cause a “sugar flood” in the brain that may result in depression and fatigue.
- Industrial seed oils - This includes highly processed oils like corn, grapeseed, soybean sunflower and palm that are high in omega-6 fatty acids. Studies have shown people who eat a lot of those highly inflammatory omega-6s are at higher risk of depression.
- Added and refined sugars - Beyond desserts and cereals, they’re in everything from ketchup to salad dressings and all that sugar can create increased anxiety and unstable mood levels.
- Fried foods - Research shows people who consume more fried foods are more likely to develop depression in their lifetime, so cutting back on foods like tempura and fried chicken - which are often fried in unhealthy fats - can help.
And on the flip side, Dr. Naidoo recommends eating these for a “happy brain and healthy body”:
- Probiotics - Including yogurt, tempeh, sauerkraut kimchi and kombucha.
- Prebiotics - Beans, oats, bananas, berries, garlic, onions and asparagus.
- Low-GI carbs - Like brown rice, quinoa, steel-cut oats and chia seeds
- Healthy fats - Including olive oil, nut butters and avocados
- Vitamins - B9, B12, B1, B6, A and C
- And Minerals and micronutrients - Iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and selenium.