The topic of nutrition, the process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for growth, is a contentious one but the old mantra of 'you are what you eat' does still hold some wisdom.
Our food nourishes our body and brain, so the quality and quantity of what we eat matters. Needless to say, everyone's diet has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with food shortages and delivery delays, an over-reliance on take-aways, and boredom eating habits setting in. What we eat directly affects the bacteria in our gut, and our gut relays signals to our brain. This directly affects our hormones, energy levels, sleep cycle, and mood. In short, a poor diet can leave you feeling sluggish, suffering disjointed sleep, and low in mood.
Food gives us our energy, in the form of calories, but not all calories are created equal. The source of the calories you eat arguably matters more than the number of calories you eat. Both these plates would give you 200 calories, but fibre, minerals, and vitamins are typically more plentiful in natural, unprocessed foods like vegetables and fruits. It's also important to eat a balanced selection of foods so that you ingest all the vitamins and minerals necessary for healthy development.
Figure 1: Doritos (41 grams) vs Apples (385 grams), source:
Sleep is essential for restoring and repairing the brain (among other things!) and what we eat directly affects the quality and amount of sleep we get. We all know that drinking large amounts of caffeine keeps us up late, but what a lot of people don't appreciate is the negative impact this has on our hormones and sleep cycle. Chefs and shift workers are particularly vulnerable here because, caffeine drinks aside, they grow accustomed to being awake when others are asleep as a result of their working patterns.
Studies show that night-workers do not sleep as deep, or as long, compared to their day-shift counterparts, and this can have a significant impact on health in the long term. Exposing yourself to natural light in the day helps restore your biological clock (and produce Vit D – essential for building healthy bones and muscles), as does shutting out as much light as possible at bedtime. Stay away from electrical devices, like your mobile phone, for at least half an hour before going to bed. This will encourage the production of the hormone which makes you feel like going to sleep.
So in this never-ending cycle, our diet affects our energy levels, our energy levels affect our sleep, our sleep affects our mood and our mood affects our diet choices, and so the cycle continues. We need to pay attention to every part of this cycle in order to maintain good physical and mental health but diet is the best place to start. So let's all make a conscious effort to be mindful of what we eat; to look after our body and brain as best we can, throughout this challenging time.