Brain Food Diet Ex­plained

A weekly eat­ing plan to main­tain your short- and long-term men­tal health

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Front Page - BY ALEX MLYNEK

CON­DI­TIONS such as anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion are com­pli­cated and con­nected to a num­ber of fac­tors, in­clud­ing ge­net­ics, per­son­al­ity and en­vi­ron­ment. But Grace Wong, a di­eti­tian who spe­cialises in men­tal health nutri­tion, says eat­ing well can help your brain func­tion at its best, which can help reg­u­late how you feel.

“We know that there’s an as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween a high-qual­ity diet and a lower preva­lence of men­tal ill­ness,” she ex­plains. “But we ac­tu­ally haven’t seen a di­rect cause and ef­fect for a spe­cific nu­tri­ent.” As you need a va­ri­ety of nu­tri­ents for brain health, “when you’re eat­ing dif­fer­ent types of foods, you’re more likely to get all the build­ing blocks you re­quire for op­ti­mal brain func­tion,” she says.

Ready to get started? Here’s a weekly road map to eat­ing a brain­boost­ing diet that will help you pro­tect and main­tain your men­tal health.


Stick to three meals a day and one or two snacks, or have four or five smaller meals. “Our brains need a con­sis­tent and steady flow of fuel,” says Wong. Eat­ing meals on an ir­reg­u­lar ba­sis can re­sult in poor con­cen­tra­tion, ir­ri­tabil­ity and mood­i­ness. As

well, this kind of eat­ing can cause you to un­der­eat or overeat and lose touch with feel­ings of hunger and full­ness, she ex­plains. Since anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion can cause changes in ap­petite, it’s im­por­tant to be con­nected to these feel­ings.


It’s im­por­tant to eat a wide va­ri­ety of foods, says Wong. For this rea­son, she rec­om­mends stay­ing away from crash or re­stric­tive di­ets. Car­bo­hy­drates (for glu­cose), pro­tein (for amino acids), healthy fats and vi­ta­mins are es­sen­tial and work to­gether, and you can only get what you need by eat­ing dif­fer­ent types of foods. The B vi­ta­mins im­por­tant for brain health are wa­ter sol­u­ble, which means that our bod­ies don’t store them, so we have to re­plen­ish them. Try ground flaxseed for vi­ta­min B1, ba­nanas or tuna for vi­ta­min B6, lentils or spinach for vi­ta­min B9, and milk or eggs for vi­ta­min B12.


Wong sug­gests that you check in with your­self on a reg­u­lar ba­sis to eval­u­ate how you’re feel­ing about food and body issues. Peo­ple with de­pres­sion or anx­i­ety may not feel good about them­selves some days. Many hope that chang­ing their di­ets or bod­ies may change how they feel, so they’ll de­prive them­selves of nu­tri­ents, or they may feel un­wor­thy and not prac­tise self-care. Be com­pas­sion­ate and pa­tient with your­self, and make a point of eat­ing at least one food you love to get through hump day.


Drink­ing one or two cups of cof­fee is OK, but it’s im­por­tant not to drink too much, says Wong. “Caf­feine stim­u­lates the brain and can give a short­term en­ergy boost, but a high in­take can de­crease the brain’s sen­si­tiv­ity to nat­u­ral mes­sen­gers.” Swap one of your reg­u­lar cof­fees or teas for a smoothie made with flaxseed oil (for omega-3s), Greek yoghurt (for pro­tein) and some fruit (pa­paya is a good source of fo­late).


Eat­ing with oth­ers is one way to boost the qual­ity of your diet, says Wong. When peo­ple eat alone, they may be less likely to eat a va­ri­ety of foods be­cause they lack the motivation to make an en­joy­able meal or don’t make eat­ing a pri­or­ity. So host a din­ner party, in­vite a friend out for a meal or start a work lunch club, where every­one takes turns bring­ing a dish to share.

If a loved one is house­bound, make a point of vis­it­ing to eat to­gether. Wong notes that el­derly peo­ple who don’t leave the house are at risk of nu­tri­ent de­fi­cien­cies through a lack of va­ri­ety in their di­ets.


Eat­ing a var­ied and reg­u­lar diet is eas­ier if you have a plan, so try to

cre­ate a rou­tine for meal plan­ning, cook­ing and gro­cery shop­ping. But don’t worry, says Wong: there’s no need to make big changes all at once. “Don’t be too am­bi­tious,” she says. “Start with what you have and slowly build on it.” A plan will also help when you feel less able to man­age. “With de­pres­sion, a lot of peo­ple lose their motivation to get up and en­gage with their day,” ex­plains Wong. “They may not feel like they want to cook, gro­cery shop or eat, so they eat repet­i­tive things. With anx­i­ety, peo­ple may en­gage in emo­tional eat­ing or may not eat at all as a way to cope when they feel over­whelmed.” If you are strug­gling, seek help. There’s no need to do this alone, says Wong.


Build your nu­tri­tional tool­box by try­ing out a new dish or in­gre­di­ent. For a snack, con­sider pis­ta­chios, which are packed with B vi­ta­mins (vi­ta­min B6, fo­late and thi­amine) and high in the amino acid tryp­to­phan, says Wong. Or give sun­flower seeds, a source of vi­ta­min B6 and amino acids, a go. Quinoa con­tains all of the es­sen­tial amino acids, and ama­ranth, a ver­sa­tile pseudo-ce­real, is high in pro­tein and can be added to sal­ads, baked goods or soups, or popped like pop­corn. Or, try a seafood you’ve never tried be­fore. Mus­sels con­tain pro­tein, thi­amine and vi­ta­min B12 and can be en­joyed steamed on their own, as part of a carb-rich pasta dish or in a stew.

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