Let’s talk about food. It’s not an unpopular opinion to like, or even be obsessed with food. And most people strive to eat the things that they find the most delicious. Also, most everyone knows that foods that are processed and high in fat are not the best for your body. However, I found it interesting that food can also have a large impact on your brain health and therefore impact your brain function and even your creativity.
This extreme affinity for food did not just appear but has formed through years of evolution as a necessity to survive. Before humans learned how to domesticate plants and animals, they had to travel miles to trap and kill their prey or find edible plants. This led to the function of brain centers that control eating behavior to become integrated with those of centers that control cognition. As a result of this, foods high in fat and calories became necessary to survive and became associated with the pleasure receptors in our brain.
However, as humans continued to develop and discovered that they could domesticate animals to kill and plants to grow whenever they so desired, eating food high in fat and calories became less necessary. Nowadays, western diets encourage these unhealthy foods making options such as fast food easily accessible and cheap. These inflammatory diet patterns can be detrimental to brain health by impairing memory and learning, as well as increasing the risk of diseases such as alzheimer’s and dementia.
Experiments have been done on mice that can show the effects of a high-fat and sugar diet on the hippocampus. Scientists stained the neurons of the hippocampus in mice that ate a normal diet and mice that ate the experimental die (high in fat and sugar). It was found that the mice that ate the experimental diet had shorter and thinner dendrites. These mice also had fewer synapses at the ends of their dendrites. The brain also began having an inflammatory response. This means that the neurons in the hippocampus that were affected were not transmitting and communicating information as effectively.
The hippocampus is a versatile and useful structure in the brain. It plays a vital role in regulating learning, memory encoding, and spatial navigation. One of the major functions of the hippocampus is forming a cognitive map. This is a type of mental representation related to acquisition, coding, storing, recalling, and decoding of information within a specific environment. This helps you interpret your surroundings. The hippocampus also plays a vital role in flexible and goal-directed behavior. Intact hippocampal activity is required for forming and reconstructing relational memory (remembering associations in different memories) associated with switching thoughts between two different concepts and social behavior. As a result of the functions of the hippocampus being intertwined with the concept of an imagination, creativity and therefore, art, is affected by an impaired hippocampus.
Artists that believed their work was influenced by the food they put into their bodies include Monet and Georgia O’Keeffe. Monet was the founder of the french impressionist movement and arguably one of the most famous painters of all time. He grew his own herb and vegetable garden, foraged for wild mushrooms, and always ensured that his meals only included the freshest of ingredients. Georgia O’Keeffe is considered the mother of modernism and had a large farm where she would source almost all of her ingredients. She so strongly believed that food consumption affected artistic output that when one of her friends produced an art piece she admired, she asked him what he ate for breakfast that morning. Today, people still use cookbooks made from recipes created by Moet and O’Keeffe.
To summarize my findings, healthy food is important! I know how tempting deliciously unhealthy food is, but I found it very interesting how even the food we eat affects our brain.
Erika Calvo. 2019. What Happens to the Brain When We Eat Foods High in Fat and Sugar. Frontiers for young minds, 7(2), 32.
Gómez-Pinilla F. 2008. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 9(7), 568–578.