Food for Thought


5/6/20244 min read

It has been well established that playing a musical instrument is a highly effective way of developing our brain and motor skills. While this understanding has been part of mainstream knowledge for quite some time, I find it very interesting that no one in the classical music world is talking about the price such a highly demanding task requires of our body and brain.

During my student years, when I was practising the flute for 3-4 hours a day, I noticed that I had little energy and willingness to do anything else. Back then, I reasoned this was due to my deep passion for music. My experiences of the last few years have taught me that there was much more to it.

Throughout the years, I've learned that my ability to keep improving my performance required me to develop multiple non-musical skills. Learning about my psychology, mindset, mental preparation, visualisation, and the simple idea of taking some time off to recharge and let information sink in have improved my playing, teaching, and general happiness. While these are fundamental principles that all musicians must explore and incorporate into their lives, I recently came to the conclusion that our nutrition, which determines more than anything else our health, stands as the primary foundation for achieving peak performance and overall well-being.

My realisation of the deep connection between what we eat and our brain ability started three years ago as circumstances led me to rethink my way of eating due to ongoing health issues. At that time, it was difficult for me to see a doctor or a nutritionist, so I had to depend on food instead of supplements and educate myself about nutrition to fix my health. This resulted in testing and evaluating how I felt after each meal which over the span of 6 months led me to a new way of eating. By recognising that the 'healthy' food I was eating made me feel worse and learning which foods had the most bioavailable nutrients I was missing, I was able to break a lot of preconceptions I had about what is a healthy diet. In just a few months, not only did the initial problem (low iron) go away, but I also noticed other major health benefits for issues I didn't even know I had, and the complete healing of my Ulcerative Colitis (according to the colonoscopy), which I had been diagnosed with seventeen years prior. Some of the benefits I've experienced were higher energy throughout the day (and no more yawning in the morning after a good night's sleep), improved attention and concentration spans (I didn't know I had brain fog!), a general feeling of calmness and the ability to sleep better, my skin cleared up, and more. There was also a noticeable improvement in my mental health and an increased desire to tackle things I always thought I absolutely couldn't do, such as writing or math. All these benefits made me wonder: how does our diet affect our physical and mental abilities, which shape our decisions and future? And how much better could musicians perform if they fed their bodies what they truly need?

So what should we be eating to improve our mental and physical capabilities? There's so much information out there, which easily contradicts each other, making it harder to figure out what is true. Despite all that, I believe that the main obstacle is our own bias. We all grew up and were educated on 'facts' which as adults we find very hard to challenge and to be open to contradicting opinions and information.

To help you begin breaking down that barrier and hopefully find it enjoyable, I've included some of the questions and ideas that have challenged my understanding of what constitutes 'the truth' in proper human nutrition. It's still surprising to me how many things I once believed to be true didn't quite add up when I took a moment to reconsider them.

  1. Over the last 10,000 years, humans' height and brain size have decreased by approximately 10-17%, alongside the emergence of metabolic illnesses such as overweight and osteoporosis, as evidenced by studies on Egyptian mummies. What pivotal change in human nutrition started around 10,000 years ago…?

  2. If supplements are necessary to sustain a healthy diet (B12, for example), why would that diet still be considered healthy?

  3. Would consuming 1000 calories from chocolate bars yield the same nutrition benefits as 1000 calories from red meat, for example?

  4. Who invented and popularised the concept of consuming cereals, and what was the rationale behind it? (Reference: John Harvey Kellogg of Kellogg's cereals and The Seventh-Day Adventist Church)

  5. What is the process of manufacturing Canola oil or any other vegetable oil compared to Olive Oil? (Reference: (For fun: Ask ChatGPT what is the refining process of sunflower oil)

  6. Did you know that our body can make all the glucose it s from fats and proteins through a process called gluconeogenesis? This means we don't actually need to consume extra glucose, whether it's from carbohydrates, fructose, glucose, or sucrose.

  7. What are the essential macronutrients humans need? Of those, what are the essential fibres and carbs?

These are just a few ideas to spark your curiosity and start you on the path toward improving your health.

My journey into nutrition began two decades ago when I was diagnosed with severe Ulcerative Colitis at 21. This diagnosis forced a thorough re-evaluation of my life, particularly my approach to nutrition. Though the journey has been arduous, I am deeply grateful for the invaluable lessons it has taught me. I encourage you to embrace a similar openness and curiosity towards the transformative potential of nutrition and overall health. Even if you currently feel healthy, I've discovered that following proper human nutrition has the remarkable ability to amplify our innate strengths, empowering us to face life's challenges with the resilience and vitality of a superhero. As classical musicians and performers, prioritising our health and nutrition will enhance our physical and mental well-being, enabling us to sustain the high energy demands of our craft. This, in turn, will allow us to express ourselves more fully and engage with our audience on a deeper level.