What you eat can affect how you think

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift examines the link between mood and food, and how what we eat can affect more than the way we look, but how we feel.  

WE all know the old adage – ‘you are what you eat’. But did you know that eating well can keep you thinking well too?

What we eat affects us more than most people realise.


We know our brain needs energy to stay alert, which is why it’s hard to concentrate on an empty stomach – but not all foods are processed by our bodies at the same rate.

Processed foods like pasta, bread and sugary drinks release glucose quickly, which converts to a short burst of energy followed by a crash. High fat foods like cheeseburgers and fries tend to provide more sustained energy, but require our digestive system to work harder, reducing oxygen levels and leaving us feeling tired and lethargic.

While most of us know this, we don’t always make the right decisions when it comes to our diet. When we’re stressed and exhausted, we rarely reach for the broccoli, although it’s times like these that a healthy diet and lifestyle matters the most.

Evidence shows people who eat an overall healthy diet characterised by fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats and fish, and wholegrains tend to have better mental health, while a diet higher in processed foods such as meat pies, processed meats, pizza, chips, sugary drinks and alcohol was associated with increased odds of psychological symptoms and disorders.

An action plan makes healthy eating easier – eating a nutritious, balanced diet, and sticking to recommended portion sizes can improved long-term health and wellbeing, reducing risks of illness and chronic disease, including some cancers.

Eating at regular intervals helps to ensure that your body has a continuous source of fuel, and may assist in keeping your mood stable. It’s also important to know which foods to limit on the shopping list.

As a general rule, salads and vegetables should make up the biggest proportion of your meal – aim for at least five serves of veggies every day. Aim to fill a quarter of your plate with carbohydrate-based foods like wholegrain bread, medium sized potato, quinoa, rice or polenta – the final quarter of your plate should be a source of protein – think cooked lean meats, poultry, fish or eggs, lentils, chickpeas and nuts.

The trick to eating right is not learning to resist temptation, but making the healthy choice the easy choice.

Queenslanders can improve their chances of a happy and cancer free future by enjoying a healthy, balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight.

Queensland schools, workplaces, sporting clubs and early childhood centres are invited to join the QUEST to eat healthier diets at Cancer Council Queensland’s quest.org.au – an online program to help Queenslanders make the healthy choice the easy choice.