The Simple Neuropsychology of the Healthy Foods We Choose
The foods that we choose to eat can have an effect on our neuropsychology, which is the relationship between our brain, emotions, moods, thoughts, and behaviors. We often do not think about our food as having an effect on our mental health. However, we can think of anything we put into our bodies as being either “medicine” or “toxins.” “Medicines” are healthy foods that help us feel good. These types of foods help our bodies and minds replenish themselves. They help our brain restore chemicals and repair cells to operate at optimal levels. Foods that are unhealthy, though, act like “toxins.” Unhealthy food products add additional, unnecessary chemicals into our bodies and minds. These foods not only add unhealthy amounts of these toxic elements, they also take away from healthy choices and foods that can benefit us. Let’s look at some of the toxic and unhealthy foods and then we will discuss the healthy food choices we can make for our mental health.
Added sugar and refined carbohydrates
Foods that are high in added sugar include:
Soft drinks and sports drinks
Refined carbohydrates are found in processed grains like white flour and elevate our blood sugar levels.
High blood sugar levels can cause issues with:
Mood, following a “sugar crash”
Foods high in added sugar may feel good temporarily; however, they lead to a drop in sugar levels once the “high” of the sugar crash wears off.
Following this sudden drop in sugar levels in our brains, we might be irritable or fatigued.
Some fats are healthy; however, trans fats are usually industrially produced and unnatural.
These are foods that contain hydrogenated vegetable oil, like:
Unhealthy fats add a lot of calories to our diet with little benefits to our brain health. These fats can “take away” from us making healthier choices to choose healthier options.
These are foods that are pre-packaged and require little to no preparation to consume, like:
Instant or microwavable meals
Snack foods like chips and sweets can also be considered processed.
Foods that are highly processed often add fats, sugars, and salt for taste.
They are high in calories and low in nutrients, meaning that they have “empty calories.” They may fulfill our daily caloric needs; however, they offer little else.
The added fat, sugar, and salt, and lack of nutrients, can affect:
Brain “plasticity” (the brain’s ability to repair and rewire itself when we are learning new skills or developing).
Try to limit these foods, as they add unnecessary and unhealthy chemicals. They also take away from our caloric consumption and leave little room for better choices. For increased brain functioning and optimal cognitive functioning, try adding some of the following to your diet. Substitute some of the unhealthy choices for these foods:
Green leafy vegetables
Foods like spinach and kale
They are high in magnesium, which may help to calm our nerves, fight depression, and minimize occurrences of migraines.
High in Vitamin K
Helps to improve our cognitive skills
Also high in vitamin K
Helps to improve memory and concentration
High in omega-3 fatty acids
Fats are necessary to a balanced diet
Substitute trans fats with healthy fats from almonds and other nuts
Fish are high in healthy, omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids help to heal the nerves and the nervous system
High in Vitamin B
Improves communication among brain cells
Helps to improve our memory
Healthy eating can be fun and enjoyable. We can learn how to cook and invite friends to share meals with us. We should do our best to avoid any meals that are prepared or prepackaged. If we need to eat “on-the-go,” we should be mindful of fast foods, as they are often among the most unhealthy options we can make for our diet. We can avoid the pitfalls of unhealthy eating by planning ahead of time. Create a weekly menu and grocery shop around the same time to establish a routine. We can plan our lunches and have healthy snacks on hand in our cars, backpacks, or purses to curb our appetites during the day. We often allow our busy schedules to get in the way of healthy eating. We might be dismissive of our diet and not realize the impact that our food has on our mental health. Be sure to prepare your diet to make healthy choices and you may notice some of the cognitive benefits of nutrition.
Food has an impact on our neuropsychology. We may not realize the impact until we experience the change for ourselves. Some foods may be high in calories while offering little value to our dietary needs. These foods can not only add harmful substances to our bodies, but can take away from our caloric needs and reduce the amount of “room” we have for better food choices. We may make bad food choices due to a lack of planning. Hunger will happen. We can plan ahead and write out weekly menus. Plan to pack your lunches ahead of time. This will remove the temptation to eat fast foods or other unhealthy options during the day. Keep some healthy snacks, like nuts and dried fruits, with you to minimize your hunger throughout the day. If you are in the need of additional support in your recovery, we are here for you. Call Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center for help at (303) 443-3343. Remember that we’ve got your back! You are always a member of our Bear Tribe!