There are certain times in life when I am extremely grateful for the advances we’ve made in food science and the convenience of processed foods. For example: COVID quarantine. In my neck of the woods, fresh eggs, chicken, and all sorts of produce were simply unavailable for weeks on end.
Being the habitual eater that I am (and the fact that I stick to routine daily for my own sanity and well-being), I sort of went into panic mode. Well, not sort of – I really did. The fresh zucchini I enjoy every night simply was not an option. No basil, no asparagus, no spinach, not even fresh carrots! And, the cheese – I rely on cheese as part of my daily dealio – every single day, was nowhere to be found. No fresh ground nut butter, etc. Sure, I found some fresh horseradish and beets on the shelves at the market, but that didn’t suit me and what I need mentally and emotionally. My world was turned upside down.
So, for the few weeks when grocery stock was low (yes, enough toilet paper feeds the brain and soul just as much as fresh food – and lack of causes just as much panic as fresh food scarcity), I DID rely on more processed foods than my body would like. I survived, but I didn’t thrive.
My brain changed. I’ll admit the anxiety and craziness of the worldwide pandemic did have a great deal (and still does) to do with my disposition, but I am certain my mental health was vastly affected – and is daily – by what I feed my body.
Here are the facts – fresh, unprocessed foods provide the body with the necessary vitamins, minerals, fiber, fats, and antioxidants to:
- Increase concentration
- Prevent memory loss
- Prevent brain and neurologically associated diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia
- Boost serotonin levels and lead to “good moods”
- Increase energy levels
- Improve digestion
- Encourage blood vessel growth in the brain for improved learning
- Decrease inflammation in the brain
- Calm the stress response in the body and brain (neurologically speaking)
- Taste really, really good
And these are just the benefits of whole, fresh foods for the BRAIN. In terms of what these garden goodies do for the rest of the body – the list of positive outcomes is truly endless.
Whole foods retain their natural state and have little or no processing. Fresh fruits and vegetables are great examples of whole foods. Whole foods tend to be nutrient-dense, which means they are filled with vitamins, minerals, fiber and don’t have added sugar, sodium or unhealthy fats such as trans-fat.
Highly processed foods are far from their natural state and often have sugar, unhealthy fats, sodium, and preservatives added to extend their shelf life. They are energy-dense (lots of calories) but not nutrient-dense and can lead to obesity and chronic disease over time.
That said, minimal processing like washing, cutting, freezing, or even cooking can be helpful and healthy. Processing can come in the form of buying a salad that is pre-washed, canned beans, frozen fruit, or even whole grain bread. And, sometimes flash frozen veggies and fruits can be even MORE nutrient dense than the fresh varieties available, simply because they are frozen at the peak of ripeness and what we’re able to purchase isn’t always as “freshly picked” as we’d like.
I noticed while I was consuming the items outside my typical whole foods, fresh diet routine, I felt “down in the dumps” more often. I certainly had much less energy. I felt stressed all the time, I had little motivation, and my digestion was less than pleasant. I lost the joy in food – it just wasn’t tasting good anymore. I was not thriving, nor was my thought process. Thank goodness we live where we do and only after a few short weeks, I was able to get back to my routine and back to my brain!
I have always struggled with anxiety and I remember telling my husband following a particularly grilling panic attack, “Next time, just feed me fruits and nuts.” My BRAIN needs the natural sugar, fiber, fat, and protein.
So think about it. If THIS is what your brain IS like on fresh foods, why not hit the produce aisle more often? Anything with an ingredient list and nutrition facts listed is more than your brain deserves. You and your brain deserve the best.