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Food for Thought: How Nutrition Influences Mental Function

By Dr. Cameron McDonald (PhD)

From alert to tired, clear to foggy, motivated to sluggish. The function and behaviour of your mind is a clear and ever-present indicator of your body’s response to the world around you, but in these cases in particular your food. The foods you consume directly and indirectly change the function of your brain, which can influence how you work, perceive people around you, your patience and general resilience.

Not eating enough of the right things can create deficiencies which alter critical pathways needed for sharp thinking in your brain. Inadequate macros can leave your brain tissue on empty (carbs), unable to repair (essential fatty acids) or without key nutrients for neurotransmitters (amino acids). Too much of the wrong thing (processed sugar, high fat, high calorie non-nutritious processed foods, irritants/allergens) can cause inflammation, blood sugar and blood fat spikes which short term can send you on a rollercoaster of mental energy. Food contents, nutrients and fibers change your gut microbiome which has a powerful link with brain function, mood, mental health and energy levels. Then even old faithful ‘caffeine’ creates whole system changes that quickly alter your mental state for better, worse and everywhere in between. 

Another way of saying it is that the right foods enhance your mood, mental function and zeal, while the wrong foods will cause pain, discomfort, inflammation or a reaction that DISTRACTS your brain and makes it tougher to stay focused.


Drawing from the knowledge the scientific world has now, it is very clear that it’s not about whether a food is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ persè, it’s about whether it is good or bad for the INDIVIDUAL, because we are all different. 

Based on a number of factors captured by the Shae HealthTypes (genetics, hormones and developmental pathways, current state of health and stress) we all have some differences in what is likely to have great, and/or very negative effects on our mental function. Knowing these differences in metabolic pathways and organ function allow us to be more specific with nutrients and foods that are going to have the most positive impact on our mental function faster.

Lets have a look at how food affects brain function differently, in different people.


The Sensor

Sensors typically have lower BMIs, have difficulty thermoregulating (due to low muscle and fat mass), and are particularly impacted mentally by the cold. Warming their body from the inside has an immediate and positive impact on mental clarity and focus. Make sure their meals are warm when eaten, include warm drinks throughout the day, whereas cold foods will genuinely DISTRACT their mind and reduce their mental output.

The Crusader

Crusaders are likely to have heightened use of their pre-frontal cortex due to the way dopamine influences them to be highly goal oriented, and thrive best when a good supply of nutritious laden carb-rich foods are provided for ongoing mental performance around every 2-3 hours. However, when a crunch is added to the food, this can increase their attention and focus through some fascinating feedback loops. Crunchy carbs can dial them right back in to better focus when fatigued.

The Activator

Activators have a brain that is designed for high intensity activity, a good supply of amino acids. Animal proteins provide the building blocks for the right balance of neurotransmitters that support this activity, but also keep their glucose levels stable, supporting focus as well. Rather than being distracted and searching for their next meal (they are likely to get hangry), these foods satiate and stabilise. Deliver these foods straight after exercise for even greater mood stability and performance.


The Connector

Connectors have a body and brain that requires variety. Generally they thrive with an omnivore diet, but this intake needs to have change and new tastes to satisfy this need for variety. They do well with a jolt of energy from fresh fruits, preferably with a low GI profile so it doesn’t spike them too much. Citrus fruits are often great for this purpose. It provides energy, great flavour and quality nutrients to stay focused and not get distracted looking for something new to do. Get the variety from the food to maintain focus on the task!


The Guardian

Guardians develop with a greater incidence of insulin resistance, and are more sensitive to spikes in glucose. To support this, being semi-fasted through time-restricted eating is one of the best ways we’ve seen for Guardians and will also help to improve their focus. Generally a very light dinner and tripling vegetable consumption through the day makes a very fast and important difference. Alginates – a biocompatible polysaccharide combined with sodium found in seaweed and algae constrict the stomach and contribute towards feelings of fulfilment, which can support a Guardian when attempting to lower their meal frequency. 

The Diplomat

Diplomats are in their best mental state when they are calm, and enjoying the day with a well laid out schedule. Great serotonin production system wide is very important for this. Similarly, they are more influenced by the health of their gut more than other types. A good dose of magnesium rich leafy greens provides support for the gut itself, contributes to a positive environment for the microbiome and these nutrients are supportive of serotonin balance. 


Food is a powerful influencer of focus and mental performance. However, as everyone’s biological makeup is slightly different, the foods to support the mind need to be tailored to the individual! To find out your type, or the type of your clients, check out the PHA Level 1 course and learn more about the power of personalized nutrition. 

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