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  • Kylie van Gelder

Food For Thought

Updated: Apr 8, 2021

One thing I love doing is eating. Seriously. There are few times of the day when I don't have food or an empty plate next to me. Food is something I truly enjoy.

If I had to pick a favourite category of food, I'd go with the white carbohydrates (a.k.a. carbs) - pastas, pizzas, chips, etc. Give me a loaf of white bread and a stick of butter and call it a day. I'd be happier than a pig in shit. But only until the white carbs caused me to bloat, have an afternoon dip and leave me feeling blah for the rest of the day.

So why is this? Why does food have such an effect on how we feel and function?

Honestly, I've always been somewhat interested in how food effects our body. I'm by no means an expert, but having dabbled in a little weight gain in my 20's, I quickly learned how food can affect my size.

It wasn't until I was struggling with infertility that I took a serious look at how food and nutrients impact people's behaviours and overall mental functioning. I started wondering about the food I was consuming and if it could potentially help the physical and mental development of my future kids.

As it turns out, the food we eat (men included) can have a significant influence on a baby's development - both physically and mentally. Not surprisingly, this same food and nutrients can positively or, in the case of lacking, negatively affect how we function as well.

When I was studying for a certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health and in Nutritional Psychology (how food impacts our behaviour), I studied something called the Gut-Brain Axis. In a nutshell, our gut communicates with our brain, specifically with the emotional and cognitive centres of our brain.

This means, what we eat directly impacts how these areas of our brain act and, so how we in turn behave. Overall, it has to do with the quality of our gut microbiota. The better the quality through the foods and nutrients we consume, the better the communication. The actual description is much more detailed. For more information on the Gut-Brain Axis, click here.

You can also think of food and nutrients as your fuel, like in a car. A higher quality of fuel, results in a better performing car and longer lasting engine. Food and nutrients are exactly the same. The better quality more nutrient dense, for example dark leafy greens, fatty fish, avocados, unsalted nuts, blueberries, etc., the better our brain and body will perform. A side note, I do not like anything from the water, so I take a daily high quality Omega-3 supplement and add soaked chia seeds to my diet.

Another way to think about the food we eat is garbage in, garbage out. If you eat junk food, even 1 time per day (chips, chocolate bar, fast food), you can expect a poor result in how you feel and so how you behave... "Oh, I'm so [yawn] tired."

What foods negatively impact how we behave? Afternoon dip anyone?

There is a strong recommendation to reduce refined sugar and processed food in our diet.

Refined sugar is found in foods like cookies, cakes, breads, cereal, pastas, many crackers, pre-made tomatoes sauce, chocolate bars, soft drinks (don't get me started on Coke Zero), salad dressings and condiments (if you want to know more Google refined sugar).

Processed foods are any pre-made boxed/packaged foods and sauces (including powdered ones), boxed "just added water" baking goods and again condiments. The list goes on, but I think you get it.

What these do to our brain is they can, for one, reduce our self-control. Hence, the reason why we want a second piece of cake. They can also significantly impact our thinking process, by causing us to get tired quicker (sugar dip) and sleep poorly. At the same time, if you're trying to get healthy, but constantly getting "pulled" to just one more bag of chips or chocolate bar, this is your brain's craving function at work. Refined sugars, specifically, make us crave our favourite junk and fast foods even more. It's important to slowly break from this habit too.

For those with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), refined sugars and processed foods can often exaggerate symptoms. In others, too much of these pesky buggers can also cause anxiety and depression. Talk about impacting our behaviour!

Now, you might be saying wow, that's a lot of info in this post and it is. The idea here is to get you thinking about what you're eating and how it might be influencing your day-to-day functioning.

What can you do about it?

When it comes to eating healthy, I'll be the first one to say it's more work and time consuming than the grab and go unhealthy alternative. There is no denying it. Although, supermarkets are getting better at attempting to provide healthier alternatives, junk food is still the easiest choice.

When it comes to veggies you want to have 5 or more portions a day (1 portion is 1 cup or 80 grams). When it comes to fruit, because of it's high sugar content, you want to keep your fruit intake to no more than 2 portions a day. Healthy fats like in avocado, nuts and fish, you want to stick to about 70 grams per day (a little less than a cup) for women and a max of 95 grams per day for men. An avocado, for example, has about 29 grams of fat. Also, herbs and spices are awesome and have so much to offer our digestive (gut) system. Protein from meat, legumes and fish is also an important part of a healthy diet.

A general rule of thumb is to eat whole foods (not processed). These are natural (preferably organic) and not boxed. Fresh meat, eggs, fish, veg and fruit are examples of whole foods.

Since I love to eat, my main focus is on a healthy balance. I enjoy cake, pasta, chips, alcohol, etc. when I have them, but I don't add them to my weekly (or in our house 4x per week) trip to the market and grocery store. I have these once a month or so, with the exception of pasta, which usually squeezes its way into our lives about 3 times a month. Wine and beer are also not a daily thing here. My husband and I pick our dates nights and enjoy a nice dinner with our favourite drink about once a week.

Each day, we make sure to eat our daily recommended veg, fruit and good fats. We also try to make sure our kids get theirs too. It's hard and we don't always get it right. Getting creative and googling some recipes helps... a lot! Homemade soups, salads, hummus, smoothies (see my recipe below), add extra veg to homemade pasta sauce, or simply chop up some veg for the week and grab this instead of chips.

It takes some getting used to, especially if you've never done any of this before, but I highly recommend giving it a try. You can even keep your current diet, but up your veg intake for example.

The point is to become aware of what you're eating, how it might make you (and your kids) feel and how you can make small changes to your daily diet to help support you and your brain.


My Smoothie Recipe

- a cup of fresh (or frozen) blueberries

- a cup of fresh spinach

- 1/4 to 1/2 avocado (depending on how thick you want your smoothie)

- a thumb size of peeled ginger

- 1/4 squeezed lemon juice

- 1 cup of water (you can add more if you want a thinner mixture)

Add these to a blender and blend away. Sometimes I add 2 cups of spinach. When it's raw/uncooked, it has no flavour.

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