Food for Thought: The Scientific Link between Diet and Cognition

by Benjamin Virnston

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Recent discoveries in food science have clearly demonstrated the impact of diet on mental health. With a few simple changes to our eating habits we can supercharge our minds.

Owing to a steadily increasing trend toward health-consciousness, many of us are already aware of the close link between what we eat and how we feel. We probably know to eat a varied diet, avoid processed foods, ensure adequate intake of essential nutrients and minimize our intake of “bad” fats and simple sugars. However, these broad guidelines are only the first step toward a truly functional diet.

In this inaugural edition of Food for Thought, we will focus on how the frequency of meals can affect cognition.

Just like any other organ, the brain requires a steady stream of energy and nutrients to function well. In fact, since the human brain consumes so much of the body’s resources, it is especially impacted by what we feed it, or fail to feed it. Therefore, one of the most important steps toward improving brain function is ensuring an adequate supply of energy and nutrients at all times.

The standard pattern of three large meals per day leaves gaps during which blood sugar plummets and the brain is starved of vital glucose. Worse still, many in our fast-paced modern society choose to skip meals because they are rushed, overstressed or just trying to save a buck.

Do you ever feel irritable or foggy between meals? There is a good chance hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is to blame.

Wright State Biology student Alia Eckhardt has struggled with hypoglycemia for years. The problem has only gotten worse since she entered college, where it is often difficult to find time for a decent meal.

“If I go more than a few hours without eating, my mind starts slowing down,” Eckhardt said. “When I forget to eat for longer than five hours, I’m pretty much a zombie.”

Eating small, more frequent meals or snacking between meals can go a long way toward improving concentration, memory and mood. Remember to snack healthily to avoid blood sugar spikes, weight gain and nutritional deficiencies, which can have the opposite effect on brain function.

Beyond changing the frequency of eating, there are a number of specific foods we can incorporate into our diets to improve cognition. Many of these foods have been shown in animal and/or human studies to boost mental capacity, while also preventing diseases and disorders that can negatively impact cognitive function. Check out next month’s installment of Food for Thought to learn more about our first brain-boosting superfood omega-3 fatty acids.


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