March is National Nutrition Month, a time to really reflect on how what we eat can impact every aspect of life, including brain health.
Feeling foggy lately? Tired? New concepts clear as mud? Yes, living through a pandemic can do that. But making healthier choices can be transformative in not only our physical health, but mental health as well.
Local certified brain health coach Karla Weiss gave a presentation to the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce lunch and learn event last month. She spoke about why making better choices to take care of your brain is important.
"Your brain is involved in everything you do and everything you are, including how you think, how you feel, how you act and how you get along with others," Weiss said. "Success in anything begins with the health of your brain."
Think of your brain like a computer – the control and command centre of the entire body, Weiss said. A healthy diet and high-quality nutrition, cardiovascular exercise, plenty of water, sleep and vitamin supplements can help the brain's 'machinery' work properly so you can process information better.
"When we continue to eat highly processed foods laden with sugar, bad fats and salts, made from ingredients grown with pesticides, flavoured with artificial sweeteners and treated with artificial dyes, we are unable to keep our brain and body working optimally," she said.
While the brain represents about two per cent of a person's body weight, it eats up about 20 per cent of the calories we consume, according to a study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"It's not about deprivation, it's about abundance."
Think about calories like money, she said. Salads are money well-spent – high-quality calorie foods will "supercharge" your brain by giving it the nutrients it needs. Dress up leafy greens with salmon, blueberries, nuts and bell peppers, and drizzle with an oil and vinegar dressing. There's a reason why picking up a cinnamon bun or energy drink instead can make you feel tired and drained long after you've finished, she explained.
Spice up your food with herbs to help with cognitive function as well. Studies point to curcumin, a component of turmeric, as being beneficial in improving mood and memory. Rosemary, thyme and sage help your memory, while cinnamon can help with attention and blood sugar, she said.
Food grown with pesticides, growth hormones found in meat, artificial sweeteners and dyes can all build up in your system over time. If you don't know what's in something, don't eat it, she said.
"Now is the time to really get thoughtful and serious about the food you put into your body."
Trying to change the foods you eat? Keeping a food journal can be a helpful tool when trying to improve your diet, she said.
"When I first started becoming healthy, I thought, 'I'm not going to be able to memorize and write down everything I eat.' It's actually really important when you first start a change process," she said. "When you write it down, you're more aware."
Just like taking care of the physical health of your brain, it's important to check in with how your mental health is doing as well. Be aware of how the running dialogue in your mind sounds, and notice how you talk to yourself.
"When we feel as if we are enough, we are happier and more successful in our relationships. When we feel less than enough, it drives a sense of anxiety and failure," she said.
Reach out for therapy and coaching to rework that inner dialogue, or deal with past traumas, grief or emotion. Practising meditation to learn how to quiet your mind, which can help reduce stress and enhance brain connectivity, Weiss said.
Journaling can also get racing thoughts out of your mind and on to the page, solidifying it so you can look at it from a different perspective.
"Change is a process, be willing to learn new things," she said. "A better way can always be discovered, but it is up to us to begin that process."