Negative Thoughts Can Make Your Food Less Nutritious, Says A Neuroscientist

mbg Editorial Assistant By Jamie Schneider
mbg Editorial Assistant
Jamie Schneider is the Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen with a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan. She's previously written for Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Unrecognizable Woman Eating at Her Desk

Image by BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy

When it comes to strengthening the vitality of our brains, diet is a crucial factor to keep in mind (after all, it's one of the handful of variables we can control). That said, tons of experts recommend a healthy helping of brain-enhancing foods—avocado, walnuts, and wild-caught salmon often top the list. But according to communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist Caroline Leaf, Ph.D., we might want to focus less on specific "brain foods" and more on the way we eat them.

While Leaf is definitely a proponent for whole, sustainably sourced food (especially those brain-healthy fats), she's an even bigger proponent of "mindful eating," which entails savoring your meal rather than scarfing it down, sure, but it also has to do with your mental state as you chew: "You're going to lose up to 80% of nutrition if you're in a bad mood," she shares on the mindbodygreen podcast

How negative thoughts change your digestion. 

Similar to exercise, a poor mental state can make it physically difficult for your digestive system to perform. Think about it: When you're dreading an early morning jog or HIIT session, doesn't it feel a touch more difficult than when you spring to it eager and ready? The same goes for eating, says Leaf. 

It happens at the cellular level: For example, your pancreas is in charge of producing digestive enzymes and hormones (like insulin), as well as aiding the absorption of nutrients. And according to Leaf, the pancreas secretes around 20 different neuropeptides (or the key mediators between the neurons in our brain and GI functions in our body).

So when you're in a negative state (stressed, anxious, and the like), the communication channel is compromised, and thus, your body might not absorb nutrients as optimally, and, as Leaf previously mentioned, you might lose up to 80% of the nutritional value—even if you're snacking on the most antioxidant-rich veggies. "If you're eating organic, sustainable, farm-to-table, whole food, but you're eating with feelings of anxiety, depression, or jealousy, you affect every part of your digestive system," she adds.

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The takeaway.

So where do we go from here? Well, Leaf suggests checking in with your mental health before sitting down to take your first bite. Are you feeling anxious? Frightened? Upset? It's physically and mentally worth it to prioritize your emotional state before digging in. 

It becomes especially important if you're attempting a brand-new eating plan; you might want to approach the new venture with some positivity rather than pouting at your plate. As Leaf notes: "Calm down emotionally if you're going to eat. It's better to fast than eat rather than eating when you can't [be mindful]." 

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