What we eat has such a deep impact on our moods and emotions. Now is a great time to remind ourselves of the deep connection to what we put in our bodies and how we feel.
This article will look specifically at the nutrition-brain-body relationship as related to both eating habits and how we hydrate. I propose the following simple habits to honor yourself:
1. Eat whole foods instead of processed or fast foods,
2. Make healthy fat is your friend,
3. Consider supplementation for optimal performance based on the latest brain-body research, and
4. Hydrate with lots of clean water.
Habit #1: Eat whole foods instead of processed or fast foods
Eating whole foods instead of processed foods is the first foundational habit. Whole foods include foods that come from nature/Mother Earth, are minimally processed, and typically have no label. The advice of journalist Michael Pollan is quite basic but accurately sums up in just seven words a major positive change for most people following the standard American diet: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” (Pollan, 2009). Whole foods that come from Mother Nature include eggs, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish, and meat. When we buy these foods, we typically do not see complex and long food ingredients lists (if the food has a label at all). If labels are present, they are likely words that we cannot easily understand and our grandmothers would not recognize as food.
While experts disagree on the exact diet plan for brain-body wellness, those diets that are considered “best,” including the Paleolithic Diet, Ketogenic Diet, Raw Foods Diet, Traditional Japanese Diet, Asian Diet, Vegan Diet, and Mediterranean Diet all have one thing in common, and that is that they are all based on whole foods (Weil, 2000). Foods that are especially good for the brain-body system, as reported by Facty Health (n.d), are: (a) beets, (b) avocado, (c) broccoli, (d) dark chocolate, (e) salmon, (f) walnuts, (g) blueberries, (h) turmeric, (i) rosemary, and (j) coconut oil.
Habit #2: Make healthy fat is your friend
The fact that four of the foods listed above are primarily healthy fat (avocado, salmon, walnuts, and coconut oil) leads us to the next habit for brain-body wellness: make healthy fats your friend.
The primary type of fat for brain health to focus on are the omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to affect the brain development of babies from the time of conception (Elliot, 2000). Omega-3 fats nourish the brain, eyes, joints, and digestive tract and are so important to the body that they are called essential fatty acids. The term “essential” actually comes from the fact that the body cannot produce these fatty acids on its own; they must be consumed in the diet. Omega-3 fats are a type of polyunsaturated fat found primarily in fish, but they can also be found in eggs and grass-fed dairy products, and meat from grass-fed cows. Omega-3 fatty acids consist of two types of fatty acids: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which circulate throughout the body and assist with various chemical reactions. When the body needs to use fat for a particular reaction, using an omega-3 fatty acid can help to reduce inflammation, while using a non-omega-3 fat, such as an omega-6 or -9 fatty acids can increase inflammation (Horstman, n.d). There are non-animal sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but the body must make an additional chemical process to convert the ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), from sources such as walnuts and flaxseeds, into DHA and EPA (Horstman, n.d).
Habit #3: Consider supplementation for optimal performance based on the latest brain-body research
While the human body is an extraordinary system capable of carrying out hundreds if not thousands of complex processes every day, the process of converting ALA into DHA and EPA is not particularly efficient (Horstman, n.d). Therefore, those individuals that do not eat a lot of seafood or grass-fed meat and dairy products or who limit or avoid fish as a result of the potential for mercury contamination may take the final step in the framework for nutrition and supplementation for brain-body wellness: consider supplementation for optimal performance based on the latest brain-body research. The first supplement of choice for brain-health, especially if the client is not getting much EPA in the form of fish, is an omega-3 supplement either in the form of fish oil or krill oil.
With this basic brain-body need taken care of, the remaining three optional supplements for those clients looking for brain-body wellness insurance with some potential upside come from the well-researched supplements for brain health recommended in Dave Asprey’s (2016) Headstrong: The Bulletproof Plan to Activate Untapped Brain Energy to Work Smarter and Think Faster – In Just Two Weeks are (a) MCT Oil, (b) PQQ, and (c) CoQ10.
MCT, which stands for medium-chain triglycerides, is metabolized directly by the liver to create ketones, a secondary source of fuel to the brain (other than glucose) which the brain particularly likes (Asprey, 2017).
PQQ, which stands for Pyrroloquinoline Quinone, is an antioxidant protecting against inflammation and can actually cause mitochondrial biogenesis (Asprey, 2017).
CoQ10, which stands for Coenzyme Q10, is an antioxidant that helps mitochondria produce energy more efficiently within the mitochondrial inner membrane (Asprey, 2017). The commonality across these supplements is that they assist with mitochondrial function. As I discuss in a recent blog post about photobiomodulation, brain cells have a significantly higher concentration of mitochondria versus other cells in the body. Thus, assisting the function of mitochondria helps the overall brain-body wellness system.
When considering brain-body wellness, nutrition, and supplementation interventions can go beyond a typical healthy diet to achieve peak performance. Dr. Andrew Weil (2000) dedicated an entire chapter in Eating Well for Optimal Health to “the best diet in the world,” but his Appendix B on the optimum diets for specific conditions calls out specifically for the intake of omega-3 fatty acids as a way to address brain-body wellness, termed everything from “mood swings” to “bipolar disorder.” Indeed, what we eat and supplement with has a major impact on our brain-body wellness.
Habit #4: Hydrate with lots of clean water
Water is essential for brain-body wellness and overall health. Dehydration causes headaches, hunger, upset stomach, crabbiness, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. Drinking half of our body weight in ounces can help avoid dehydration. However, many people are dehydrated not just because they are not drinking enough water but are consuming foods that dehydrate the system such as soda, alcohol, and highly processed foods (Junger, 2012).
Our bodies are about 70% water, and water is critical to our brain-body health (Junger, 2012). The key is drinking enough water, avoiding dehydrating foods and beverages, drinking the right kind of water (filtered), and treating the water that exists in our bodies with other interventions to support its purity and functionality. Water regulates body temperature, helps transport nutrients to our cells, and protects our organs and tissues. We cannot live long without water. Although actual survival statistics depend on conditions, a guideline is that humans can live for about two weeks without food but only about two days without water. Water removes waste from our brains and bodies by ridding our bodies of toxins (Junger, 2012). For optimal brain-body health, we should ensure that we are drinking purified water, given that unfiltered tap water can contain components like fluoride and chlorine, which can interfere with the proper functioning of the thyroid and can negatively impact our mood (Ross, 2005).
There is a link between the water in our bodies and the photobiomodulation intervention previously covered. In his book Headstrong: The Bulletproof Plan to Activate Untapped Brain Energy to Work Smarter and Think Faster – In Just Two Weeks, Dave Asprey (2017) discussed the work of Dr. Gerald Pollack, water expert, and bioengineering professor at the University of Washington. Dr. Pollock discovered something similar to the water/crystal experiments conducted by Masuru Emoto made famous by the movie, What the Bleep Do We Know? Rather than studying the water/crystal structures based on exposure to intention, Dr. Pollock discovered that water changes structure when exposed to photobiomodulation (or infrared light). He called the water exposed to photobiomodulation “EZ water,” which is biologically superior in that it supports mitochondrial function. (Asprey, 2017). This is a bit out there, but I’m experimenting with putting water under my photobiomodulation system to see if I experience any differences in how I feel after drinking water exposed to photobiomodulation.
I hope you have fun adopting some if not all of these habits for March and beyond for optimal physical and mental health. If you need extra support and/or an accountability buddy, feel free to reach out to me here on LinkedIn to inquire about my coaching availability.
(And since I’m about how to make everything fun, here are a few clips about the water and the brain from Water Boy):
High-quality H20: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOH4gB15qYI
Medulla oblongata: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cu7A8LIzL1o
Asprey, D. (2017). Head strong: The bulletproof plan to activate untapped brain energy to work smarter and think faster-in just two weeks. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Bensaoula, T. (Ed.). (n.d.). Ten of the best brain foods. Facty Health. Retrieved from https://facty.com/lifestyle/wellness/10-of-the-best-brain-foods/2/
Eliot, L (2000). What’s going on in there? How the brain and mind develop in the first five years of life. New York, NY: Bantam.
Horstman, T. (n.d.). Make friends with fat. Make Everything Fun. Retrieved from https://makeeverythingfun.com/not-afraid-fat/
Junger, A. (2012). Clean- Expanded edition: The revolutionary program to restore the body’s natural ability to heal itself. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Pollan, M. (2009). Food rules: An eater’s manual. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Ross, J. (2003). The mood cure: The 4-step program to take charge of your emotions—today. New York, NY: Penguin.
Weil, A. (2000). Eating well for optimum health. New York, NY: Anchor Books.