Struggling to concentrate on that important assignment? Breaking up with your bed in the
morning feeling more tasking than ever? Ever thought what you choose to eat can have an
impact on mood, cognition and energy?
Nutritional choices, amongst other lifestyle habits, can dramatically influence mental capacity,
cognitive performance, energy and emotional processing. Although many perceive eating a
chocolate bar as more tempting and satisfying than an orange, it is important to acknowledge
that not all food acts the same once it reaches your stomach. Immediately after eating a
chocolate bar, you may feel on top of the world – but what occurs internally is not so great. (And
I’m not referring to your waistline)
Recognizing the underestimated power of wholesome nutrition on your mental health can
encourage you to boost your energy levels and ease the stress.
If you’re unsure where to begin, follow these tips for a mental pick-me-up:
Tip #1 Don’t give in to the sweet tooth:
For some individuals, stress and anxiety can increase sugar cravings, causing you to indulge on
sugar-laden food and drink. However, gulping a can of energy drink may feed into the vicious
cycle of stress, instead of relieving it. Here’s how it works in a nutshell:
You succumb to that urge and inhale a decadent chocolate bar oozing with a river of caramel.
Things are going great; you’re buzzing from that sugar rush and your fingers are typing as fast
as they can. Twenty minutes later, you suddenly feel burnt-out and ready for a snooze. What
just happened is the typical energy roller-coaster you get from eating a glucose-rich food (or
sugar). You quickly utilize the energy, and when blood glucose levels drop, your body begins to
crash. These highs and lows can negatively impact your productivity, mood, energy levels and
Instead of reaching for a chocolate bar when you’re stressed, opt for a healthy fibre-rich snack
instead for sustainable energy release. This could be a handful of nuts, a piece of fruit,
vegetables and hummus, or a pot of low-sugar yoghurt. Not only will you physically and mentally
feel better in the interim, reducing refined sugar from your diet can reduce the release of stress
hormones in the long-run.
Tip #2: Wishful thinking – Feed your brain with omega-3s:
Controversial ‘low-fat’ diets have left a negative imprint in may minds – but we now know that
cutting fat out is not so beneficial after all. There is a reason why fat is a major required nutrient
– it is necessary for cell membrane production, hormonal production, and more. Instead of
eliminating fat, focus on incorporating healthy omega-3 fats into your diet, found in oily fish, nuts, olives, seeds, and avocados.
Omega-3 fats are known for their anti-inflammatory benefits,
which can help protect the brain against inflammatory damage and oxidative stress. In fact,
more than 30 trials have shown benefits of consuming omega-3 fats on mental health,
depressive symptoms and anxiety. Aim to consume 2 portions of oily fish a week for a good
quality source of Omega fats. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you can introduce a high-quality
omega-3 supplement to promote cognitive function.
Tip #3: A Gut feeling: Fermented foods:
Your gut is packed with 100 trillion bacterial cells – that’s about 10 times the amount of cells
found in an adult’s human body. While many think having a balanced gut microbiome is
important for digestive health, science has established the presence of the gut-brain axis – i.e.
the gut and the brain have a direct effect on each other.
If you are in a state of gut imbalance, it may trigger or exacerbate stress, anxiety and
depression. Therefore, enhancing the quality of your gut microflora can promote mental
wellbeing. You can do so by consuming fermented foods – which are rich in beneficial bacteria.
This includes yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha. If you’re not a fan of these foods, you
can choose to supplement your diet with viable bacteria to promote gut and brain health.
Just like you need food for physical energy, your brain requires the correct nutrients to function
at its best. Implementing a dietary regimen that is rich in fruits, vegetables, omega-fats and
fermented foods can help you build the foundation of managing stress and relieving cognitive
Written by Salma Dawood – @salamidawood