Diet & Nutrition

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Food and happiness
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The study of diet upon human performance has long been a topic of considerable research. As research continues, we are discovering just how vital diet is, not only for optimum bodily health, but for brain health too.


When we think of good brain health, we might expect good functioning in processes such as mood, attention, inhibitory control, memory and cognition. To achieve optimal function in each of these areas requires supplementing or boosting our consumption of certain foods and eliminating or reducing our intake of others. Let’s start by looking at the foods we can consume to maximise our brain health in each of these areas.



Several studies using treatment and placebo control groups have reported that the mood of participants in the treatment groups improved with supplementation of Thiamin. Participants reported other beneficial effects such as greater self-confidence, less fatigue and a general sense of well-being (Mattson, 2002). Thiamin (a B vitamin) is found in whole grains, lean pork, liver, kidneys, nuts (especially cashews, peanuts, brazil nuts, pistachios and pine nuts). It is also present in yeast extract (Vegemite), malted milk powders (Milo) and cereals fortified with vitamin B1 (Nutri-Grain).


In the past, a lack of folate has been associated with symptoms of depression, and deficiency in B12 with psychosis and cognitive impairment. Studies appear to support these associations. A particular case study involving a 16-year-old male who presented with symptoms of depression and psychotic features due to an inability to absorb B12, saw no recurrence of psychotic features and an elevation of mood six months post treatment (Tufan et al., 2012). Foods that are rich in B12 include liver, kidney, egg yolk and legumes such as lentils, beans, and starches such as potato, sweet potato and wholegrain breads. Vegetables and fruit such as spinach, beetroot, broccoli, asparagus, banana, oranges and peaches also contain these vitamins.


Iron is well documented as being vital for brain development and structure in infants and children. The maintenance of healthy iron levels is essential throughout the lifespan. In children, iron deficiency has been associated with poorer achievement in school and cognitive tests. Studies have linked iron deficiency in women with symptoms of anxiety and depression. Most at risk of iron deficiency are women, vegetarians and those who maintain a poor diet. The best source of iron is from animal products such as red meat and offal (liver). Chicken, duck, turkey and fish also contain iron, as do leafy green vegetables (spinach, silverbeet and broccoli), lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, grain and dried fruits.


Vitamin C aids the absorption of iron in the body, and so it is recommended that iron rich foods are eaten at the same time as foods rich in vitamin C (some include: oranges, tomatoes, kiwi fruit, capsicum).

It should also be noted that tea, coffee and wine can reduce the body’s absorption of iron. So too can foods high in calcium like milk, cheese and tinned salmon.

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