Do you feel like your brain is a good, nurturing and mindful boss? Or could it use some sensitivity training?
Your brain controls nearly every aspect of your life. Paying close attention to the foods you chow down on helps you better manage your brains’ function. This conscious awareness of what you put into your body has a tremendous impact on your ability to be mindful.
Research shows a direct correlation between nutrition and moods. Foods like caffeine and alcohol immediately affect the brain (one tequila, four tequila… floor). Others are more slow-acting, such as B-vitamins, which help regulate and balance our moods over time (hello, calm and collected rush hour reaction time).
By supporting our cognitive faculties, we’re also bringing more awareness to the present moment. We could all use a little more mindfulness these days… well, actually a lot.
Here’s a look at how nutrition affects your brain and how small shifts can improve your mental focus, clarity and capacity for emotional ease.
Start with a Mindful Approach to Everyday Diet Clean-up
Just like any other machine, your brain functions at its best when it receives the right fuel. You’ve probably noticed some of the effects food has on your brain already, such as brain fog after overeating sugar and empty carbs—cue the couch potato mood.
Here are some easy, actionable steps to optimize your nutrition for improved brain function and mindfulness.
Intermittent fasting for deeper meditative states & greater flexibility.
Fasting has been used for centuries to improve mental, physical and emotional health and self-discipline and focus. The act of fasting allows you to be more mindful of food and hunger without reacting to pre-programmed urges or hardwired habits.
Surprisingly, fasting can also benefit both your meditation and yoga practice. You’ll be able to get into a deeper meditative state more quickly when you’re fasting. You’ll also be able to bend and twist more deeply into the yoga poses when your digestive system takes a breather.
Many practice intermittent fasting several times a week, which means they only eat during an eight-hour window on fasting days. Three-day fasts are also very popular for their incredible immune system and anti-ageing benefits. Try experimenting to see what works for you.
Prioritize your protein to better manage emotions.
Protein is essential for a multitude of mental and physical processes, including regulating your moods. High protein foods such as cage-free eggs, Greek yogurt, legumes and lean meat encourage the release of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine. These two “feel good” hormones not only give you an immediate energy boost, but they also improve your mood (and make waiting in line that much more tolerable). Managing difficult emotions is essential to any mindfulness practice, whether it’s day-to-day life, meditation or yoga.
Fibre is still your everyday friend.
Many of us overlook fibre in a healthy diet. This is a big mistake. Fibre is essential for overall health and mental well-being. It helps the body break down sugar at a slower, healthier pace, preventing blood sugar swings and more brain fog.
Fibre also encourages the release of serotonin, which decreases mood swings. When your moods are all over the place, it’s challenging to be mindful and focused on the present moment. Whole grains, legumes (hummus counts!), veggies, fruit and seeds (think chia, hemp, flax) are healthy dietary fibre sources to optimize digestion and improve mindfulness.
Nutrients Directly Involved in Mindfulness
Vitamins do so much more than keep your bones, muscles and immune system healthy. They also have a tremendous impact on your mental state, moods, as well as your ability to focus and be present.
1. Vitamin D
Increasing your vitamin D intake can help combat depression and regulate the mood, allowing you to enjoy more time in a mindful state. Incorporate these simple practices:
- Boost your vitamin D intake by spending a little time in the sun every day (at least 15 minutes, preferably before noon)
- Consume free-range egg yolks
- Choose consciously farmed dairy products or dairy alternatives that have been fortified with vitamin D
- Taking a supplement daily (ensure it contains D3)
2. B-12 and Folate
B vitamins are essential for boosting health if you’re facing depression, anxiety, and fatigue. The B family also supports mental clarity, focus, and mindfulness. Folate can be found in oranges, oatmeal and broccoli. B-12 is found in salmon, lean beef and cottage cheese. Taking a daily vitamin B complex can also help cover any micro-deficiencies of the Bs.
Iron is crucial for delivering oxygen to the brain. As you can imagine, inadequate oxygen to the brain can lead to poor mental performance and mental fatigue – and an inability to be mindful. The best dietary sources of iron are spinach, ethically raised poultry and grass-fed beef.
‘No Brainer’ Foods to Avoid
Certain foods cause brain fog and leave you feeling unfocused, fatigued, and unproductive in general (hello, afternoon slump). In many cases, these symptoms can be dramatically improved or even eliminated simply by avoiding certain foods in your diet. By removing certain foods from your diet, you might find you’re able to stay present and keep negative thoughts and emotions in check (instead of diving into your partner’s Halloween candy stash.)
Brain fog is one of the most common symptoms of gluten sensitivity. Even a mild gluten intolerance can cause an immune response that leads to inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation affects your gut health and your body’s ability to absorb nutrition. If brain fog and digestive issues are a common problem for you, try eliminating gluten to see if it helps.
2. Refined Sugars & Carbohydrates
Most of us are guilty of indulging in sugar and carbs, especially when we’re feeling fatigued or down. This strategy is actually counterproductive.
Empty carbs and sugar can cause dramatic swings in your glucose levels, leading to mental cloudiness, mood swings, and a crash in energy levels. To keep your energy levels balanced and flowing, try increasing your intake of healthy fats (coconut cream pie truffles with cashews, yes please!) and protein.
If your brain doesn’t have the raw materials it needs to function at its peak, you won’t be able to focus on the present moment with a clear mind.
Just think on it.