Mind stuck on the waistline

THEY say you are what you eat – but diet can have as profound an impact on your mental wellbeing and intellect as it can on your waistline, a health conference at Byron Bay will hear this week.

The conference, called Integrative Medicine – What Works!, is aimed at explaining to GPs how they can improve patients’ health by co-ordinating with allied health professionals such as naturopaths and herbalists.

Over the two-day conference, being held at the North Beach Byron Resort on Friday and Saturday, doctors will hear from a range of high-level speakers on things such as the potential for acupuncture in emergency departments, the way the Alfred Hospital in Sydney is using ‘integrative care’ in its cardiovascular department and the impact of nutrition on mental health care.

Naturopath and one of the conference’s directors, Sally Mathrick, said diet had an ‘enormous’ impact on mental wellbeing and could be used as an important part of treatments for ser-ious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

Ms Mathrick said the brain was fuelled by glucose and ‘macronutrients’ – protein, fats and carbohydrates.

If the main type of food being fed to the brain was refined carbohydrates, from things such as chocolate and lollies, but also things like white bread, it would operate in hyperactive bursts separated by deep lows, much like a car bunny-hopping as a learner driver slams down the accelerator and then releases it. The impact on mood could be clearly seen in children reacting to lollies – intense exuberance followed by tears and recriminations.

That impact on mood also extended to how clearly you can think.

“If you are not getting the right proteins then it’s going to be more difficult for the brain to function,” Ms Mathrick said.

Add to that unhealthy foods containing things such as trans fat, such asmany margarines, hot chips and ‘fast’ foods, and brain function was limited even further.

“There are 65 to 75 trillion brain cells in a brain and the amount of potential synaptic pathways they can form is more than there are stars in the sky,” Ms Mathrick said.

“If you think of the potential of the human brain on that scale and look at what’s happening in that brain ... I know from my own personal experience with eating good, healthy, wholesome, nourishing foods that I start to think so clearly.”

Ms Mathrick said healthy eating could not ‘cure’ something like schizophrenia, but could be a valuable part of managing the illness.

Tickets are available at the door. Go to for more details.

Food mind games

Things to eat to improve your mood and sharpen your mind:

  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as those found in oily fish and avocados;
  • Minerals, such as zinc, found in whole grains, beans, meat and milk; magnesium, found in green leafy vegetables, nuts and whole grains; and iron, found in red meat, green leafy vegetables, eggs and some fruits;
  • Vitamins, such as folate, found in green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals; B vitamins, found in whole-grain products, yeast and dairy products; and antioxidant vitamins such as C and E, found in many fruits and vegetables.

As an added bonus, a diet rich in those nutrients will also slash your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and a variety of other illnesses.

Source: Changing Diets, Changing Minds: how food affects mental well being and behaviour by Courtney Van de Weyer

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