How the right diet could increase your creativity

Modern research shows us what food to eat to be more creative and increase our well-being.


Our creativity is strongly dependent on our well-being, both physically and mentally. It goes without saying that we can turn on our flow of creative ideas easier if we are healthy, happy, well-rested and in a good condition.

There is now a growing body of evidence also what to eat in order to increase our wellbeing and to sharpen our mental capacities.

How the body handles the food we eat

To illustrate my point I want you first to consider a normal day for someone on a typical Western diet.

All the energy we depend on comes from three different sources; fats, proteins and carbohydrates (sugar and starch). Dietary fats and proteins are also essential for building the cells of our bodies, without which we cannot survive.

Blood sugar in the form of glucose is the primary fuel for our cells and not least the brain needs a constant fuel supply. But the carbohydrates have no other function in the body, and since we can get all our necessary fuel from fat and proteins, there is no essential need to consume carbohydrates.

But let’s now go back to what we eat and start with the breakfast. I work in an international workplace, where colleagues from different countries may have different eating habits based on background and culture. The Scandinavians may start the day with a bowl of muesli with raspberry youghurt, a cheese sandwich and a glass of orange juice, while the French or the Italians instead may have a croissant with jam and a cup of coffee.

Common to both, these breakfasts are very rich in carbohydrates. The carbohydrates are hydrolysed in the gastrointestinal tract to simple sugar molecules that are quickly absorbed by the body. However, as too high blood sugar levels are harmful, the body responds to the elevation of blood sugar after a carbohydrate-rich meal by secreting insulin from the pancreas.

The insulin effectively causes the sugar in the blood to be absorbed by the liver where it is converted into glycogen. If needed, e.g. when we are exercising, we can quickly mobilise glucose from the liver glycogen to feed our muscles and brain.

The liver, however, can only store a limited amount of glycogen, and the excess sugar, as well as all fat, from a carbohydrate-rich meal, is deposited in our fatty tissues, which have an almost endless storage capacity. Carbohydrate-rich food therefore give rise to obesity and is the primary cause of the global obesity epidemic that has emerged as one of the worst public health threats ever.

We now quickly move to mid-day. The insulin has now effectively depressed the blood sugar below the levels that our brain really enjoys, and strong signals are being sent to replenish the energy supplies.

The hunger feelings sneak up on us, and if we are sensitive, we may experience the low blood sugar levels as mental irritation, fatigue and perhaps a little headache. We therefore move to the cafeteria (or the kitchen) to quickly ge a new energy kick from lunch.

Also the lunch is often stacked with carbohydrates in the form of potatoes, pasta, rice and maybe a piece of bread, and the low blood-sugar levels may also prompt us to have a chocolate biscuit to the coffee after the food. Potatoes, bread, pasta and rice are rich in starch that very quickly breaks down to glucose, and the difference between eating sugar and starch is therefore minimal.

In the afternoon, the pattern is repeated. The insulin has pushed the energy surplus from the lunch to the liver as glycogen and the excess to fat, and we are now starting to feel tired and craving for some sweets. A cup of coffee and a slice of cake wouldn’t be bad. And so it goes on until the last snack at night before we go to bed.

With a carbohydrate-rich diet, we are thus exposed to constant fluctuations in our blood sugar and insulin levels, and recurring periods of fatigue and hunger over the day. The more carbohydrates in the diet, the greater the fluctuations and the higher the risk is for obesity and diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and stroke.

It goes without saying that a diet rich in carbohydrates is neither good for your creativity nor health.

So what’s the alternative?

If too much carbohydrates is the problem, then the solution seems quite obvious. By drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and instead replacing the energy requirement with fat we have gained a lot.

This would also make sense looking back at our genetic history, as we as a species have only ingested agriculture-derived carbohydrates for the last 12 000 years, a blink of an eye when it comes to evolution.

With a low-carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) diet, we get very stable and non-fluctuating blood sugar and insulin levels throughout the day. The sugar cravings disappear and the higher fat content in the diet also means that we need to put in less calories to feel full and the saturation is maintained longer.

As a physician trained in the 1980s, I was taught that too much fat in the diet increased the risks of obesity and cardiovascular disease. And worst of all were the unsaturated fats from animal sources (meat and butter). Furthermore, the high cholesterol content in eggs would increased the risks of cardiovascular disease even more. This “knowledge” was almost like a natural mantra that I carried with me for years, avoiding fatty foods and instead filled my plates with rice, pasta and potatoes, according to the “plate model” that we were taught already in the home-economics classes at school.

However, this was not scientifically correct. A large number of new, well-designed epidemiological studies have effectively punctuated these myths. A fat-rich, low-carbohydrate diet instead protects against both type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (and epilepsy), and has also proven to be more effective than other tested diets to make obese people lose weight.

When the LCHF diet was becoming more broadly popular in Sweden some years ago, a popular misconception arose that one had to switch to an egg-and-bacon diet . But LCHF can be a lot more varied than that.

The diet is based on meat, fish, dairy products and vegetables grown above ground (see image for this post). Furthermore , avoid, in addition to carbohydrates, also all “light products” and processed foods as much as possible. Today there are many really good LCHF cookbooks with a very varied diet.

LCHF and creativity

In addition to getting rid of the blood sugar fluctuations that make us tired and irritated, LCHF has one more advantage to our creativity.

With a very low carbohydrate intake, the body reaches, after about 2 weeks, a state known as ketosis. The word comes from the small fuel molecules, or ketones, which are now produced in the liver from the fat deposits in our body. The ketones are as efficiently fuel as glucose for our brain, and are produced by demand throughout the day without the influence of insulin.

Many people also experience an increased mental alertness in this condition, and some have switched to a diet with very low carbohydrates, the keto diet, only to be in this state of mental sharpness.

A keto diet also provides an added bonus as increased physical endurance. After a few hours of hard physical effort, the glycogen levels in the liver are exhausted and must be replenished with new carbohydrates. In ketosis, however, the ketones are both readily available and can always be derived directly from the fat deposits. Your body has been transformed from a sugar-burning to a fat-burning machine.

My own experience

I have now been eating a strict LCHF diet for a while. I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I feel full, and without any efforts or conscious thoughts, it’s often no more than one or two meals a day. I still enjoy a glass of good wine from time to time (but not beer).

So how did this affect me. The first month I lost 4 kilos of weight, but more important to me than the weight is my general well-being. Earlier-day periods with fatigue, irritability and hunger before lunch and dinner and periods of sugar-cravings in between have disappeared. I also feel more focused, alert and energetic. This blog, for example, was launched after I started with LCHF.

But why has the medical profession been so slow to change the old outdated recommendations. To a large extent, I think this is due to our genetically inborne tendency to stick to our old entrenched thinking patterns (see my previous blog post on this issue). Admitting that diet advice has been incorrect for decades may also not be easy for those having spent a lot of time and effort to promote it. But the turn of the tide is on its way, and e.g. the National Board of Health and Welfare in Sweden is now supporting the use of LCHF both for patients with type-2 diabetes and as an effective mean for weight loss in obesity.

However, there are also strong financial interests to maintain the status quo when it come to the population eating habits. The food industry earns significantly more revenue from highly processed, sugar rich foods than from natural, raw, unprocessed ecological food, although the latter is both more nutrient and often as easy to cook.

If you are interested in the details, you can read more, including drilling down in the latest medical review, at Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt’s content-rich site Diet Doctor. Andreas has also generously let me lend the vignette image to this post from his site.

Another strong advocate for healthy, and thus creativity-promoting food, is the immunologist and “lifestyle expert”, Sanna Ehdin, who wrote a lot about this on her site: Dr. Sanna Ehdin (in Swedish).

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1 000+ besök på bloggen

1000När jag började skriva den här bloggen för en vecka sedan visste jag bara att jag ville dela med mig av min entusiasm för problem som rör kreativitet till andra som kanske delar mitt intresse.

Vad jag inte visste var huruvida mina tankar skulle vara av intresse eller om jag skulle bli en ensam ropande röst i öknen. I synnerhet med tanke på den massiva konkurrensen om uppmärksamhet i cyberspace, hade jag inga förväntningar på en omedelbar storm av tittare.

En vecka senare är jag positivt förvånad över intresset. Sedan mitt första lilla inlägg den 23 augusti att jag nu startar den här bloggen så haft mer än 1 000 besök.

De flesta besökarna har varit från Sverige, resten av Europa och USA, men det har också (lite mer oväntat men mycket uppskattat) varit besökare från så avlägsna platser som Trinidad och Tobago, Mali, Libanon, Nepal, Vietnam, Colombia och Australien, för att nämna några. Sammantaget har personer från 57 olika länder täckande alla världsdelar besökt bloggen.

För mig visar detta att ämnet kreativitet är av universellt intresse, och inte begränsat till något specifikt land eller kultur. Det ger mig också en inspiration att fortsätta skriva och att och försöka inspirera mina läsare.

Om du tycker att dessa sidor är intressanta får du gärna sprida tankarna vidare genom att dela på sociala medier eller klicka på gilla-knappen, och du är naturligtvis mer än välkommen att kommentera något jag skriver.

Kontakta mig gärna också om du har några önskemål om ämnen att täcka.

united-kingdom-flag-1- This post in English

1 000+ visits to my blog

1000When I started this blog a week ago, I only knew that I wanted to share my enthusiasm for issues related to creativity to others that may share my interest.

What I did not know was whether my thoughts would be picked up, or if I would be a lone voice in the desert, unheard of others. Especially knowing the massive competition for attention out in the cyberspace, I didn’t have any expectations for an immediate storm of viewers.

A week later, I am amazed over the interest. Since my first small post announcing this blog on 23 August announcing the blog, the site has seen more than 1 000 visits.

Most of the visitors have been from Sweden, the rest of Europe and the US, but there have also been (a bit more unexpectedly but much valued) visitors from distant places like Trinidad and Tobago, Mali, Lebanon, Nepal, Vietnam, Colombia and Australia, to mention a few. In all, the visitors have come from 57 different countries, covering all continents of the world.

To me it shows that the topic of creativity is of universal interest, and not restricted to any specific, country or culture. It also gives me an inspiration to continue to write and to serve my readers.

If you find these pages interesting, you can further helt their spread by liking and sharing, and any reader is of course more than welcome to contribute with their comments.

Please also contact me if you have any wishes for topics to be covered.

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Rysslands bäst bevarade hemlighet


På 1970-talet tävlade Sovjetunionen och USA i kapplöpningen om att utforska månen. Sovjet hade inte de ekonomiska musklerna att likt USA:s Appoloprogram landsätta en människa på månen så de satsade i stället på att landa en obemannad farkost på månens mörka baksida som sedan kunde sända Tv-bilder tillbaka till jorden.

Problemet var att man behövde lysa upp omgivningen med kraftiga lampor och ingen känd glödlampa hade starkt nog glas att klara stöten vid en månlandning. Inte ens de mest hållfasta glödlamporna i de sovjetiska stridsvagnarna klarade testerna. Man provade mängder av lösningar för att förstärka glaset i glödlamporna, men inget hjälpte.

Problemet rapporterades slutligen till chefen för hela månprojektet, som var utbildad i den s.k. TRIZ-metoden. Chefens första fråga var vilken nytta glaset hade. Han fick svaret att glaset naturligtvis behövdes för att garantera vakuum kring glödtråden. Chefen kunde då snabbt konstatera att eftersom det är ett perfekt vakuum på månens yta så behövdes inte något glas.

TRIZ är en metod med ursprung i Sovjetunionen för systematisk teknisk innovation. TRIZ är den ryska akronymen för Teoriya Resheniya Izobretatelskikh Zadach, närmast översatt till Teorin om Uppfinningsrik Problemlösning. Upphovsmannen var ingenjören och uppfinnaren Genrikh Altshuller (1926–1998), som utgick från att hemligheten med teknisk innovation snarare kan hittas i den inneboende logiken i själva uppfinningen än i huvudet på uppfinnaren.

Genom att i detalj studera mer än 30 000 olika patent kunde han konstatera att all teknisk innovation kan kokas ner till 40 olika grundläggande tekniska principer. Utifrån det problem man står inför kan dessa principer appliceras på ett systematiskt sätt, vilket ofta är väldigt mycket mer effektivt än att förlita sig på resultatet av associativt tänkande eller slumpmässig ”trial and error”.

Med hjälp av sin metod kunde Altshuller och hans medhjälpare Rafail Shapiro under 1940-talet framgångsrikt lösa ett stort antal tekniska problem. När Altshuller insåg den fulla nyttan av TRIZ skrev han 1949 ett brev till Josef Stalin. Brevet beskrev Sovjetunionen som ett land i ruiner, där en bred spridning av TRIZ-metoden skulle behövas för att snabbt få landet på fötter igen.

Resultatet av brevet blev dock att både Altshuller och Shapiro snabbt hamnade i det ökända GULAG-lägret Vorkuta i norra Sibirien. Där lierade sig Altshuller med lägrets akademiska elit, ett antal internerade f.d. universitetsprofessor, och fortsatte att applicera TRIZ på arbetet i lägrets kolgruvor.

Två år efter Stalins död 1953 blev Altshuller och Shapiro frisläppta och började genast sprida metoden, som så småningom blev obligatorisk läsning vid många ryska ingenjörsskolor.

Altshullers var en produktiv författare och hans idéer fick så småningom en viss spridning också i väst, inte minst genom hans både lättlästa och roande översiktsbok And suddenly the inventor appeared: TRIZ, the theory of problem solving”, som bygger på tusentals brev han fått från ungdomar som läst om metoden i olika ryska ungdomstidningar. Dock torde mycket få uppfinnare och innovatörer i väst vara bekanta med metoden i detalj.

De 40 principerna i TRIZ bygger på nio fundamentala lagar som kan användas både för förbättringar av redan existerande teknologier och för att identifiera och utveckla helt nya sådana. Utifrån dessa principer kan man på ett mycket systematiskt sätt gå igenom sitt tekniska problem för att se det ur alla möjliga synvinklar.

Angreppssättet är alltså den absoluta motpolen till det intuitiva, associativa tänkandet, men där det associativa tänkandet kan appliceras på alla problem och utan något större mått av kunskap så krävs ett gott mått av kunskap inom teknik, fysik och kemi för att fullt ut kunna applicera de 40 principerna i TRIZ.

Men för alla som arbetar med tekniska innovationer kan det vara av värde att tränga djupare in i Altshullers TRIZ-metod, då den kan ge insikter man kanske annars inte fått.

united-kingdom-flag-1- This blog post in English


Russia’s best kept secret


In the 1970s, the Soviet Union and the United States competed in the race to explore the moon. The Soviet Union did not have the economic muscles, like the United States Apollo Program, to land a man on the moon, so instead they put their effort into landing an unmanned vehicle on the dark back side of the moon that could then send TV pictures back to earth.

The problem was that they had to light up the surroundings with powerful lights and no known lightbulb had strong enough glass to handle the shock at the lunar landing. Not even the most powerful lightbulbs used in the Soviet tanks stood up to the tests. A lot of solutions were tried to reinforce the glass in the bulbs, but nothing helped.

The dilema was finally reported to the head of the entire moon project, who was trained in the so-called TRIZ method. The chief scientist’s first question was what would be the use of the glass. He got the answer that the glass was obviously needed to guarantee vacuum around the filaments. He then quickly realized that because it is a perfect vacuum on the surface of the moon, no glass was needed.

TRIZ is a method for systematic technical innovation originating in the Soviet Union. TRIZ is the Russian acronym for Teoriya Resheniya Izobretatelskikh Zadach, closest translated to The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving. The author was the engineer and inventor Genrikh Altshuller (1926-1998), who assumed that the secret of technical innovation could rather be found in the inherent logic of the invention itself than in the mind of the inventor.

By studying more than 30,000 different patents in detail, he found that all technical innovations can be boiled down to 40 different basic technical principles. Based on the problem you face, these principles can then be applied systematically, which is often much more effective than relying on the result of associative thinking or random trial-and-error.

Using this method, Altshuller and his assistant Rafail Shapiro could successfully solve a large number of technical problems during the 1940s. When Altshuller realized the full benefit of TRIZ, he wrote a letter to Joseph Stalin in 1949. The letter described the Soviet Union as a land in ruins, where a wide spread of the TRIZ method would be needed to quickly restore the country.

The result of the letter, however, was that both Altshuller and Shapiro quickly ended up in the infamous GULAG camp Vorkuta in northern Siberia. There Altshuller liaised with the academic elite of the camp, a number of imprisoned former university professors, and continued to apply TRIZ to the work in the camp’s coal mines.

Two years after Stalin’s death in 1953, Altshuller and Shapiro were released and immediately began to spread the method, which eventually became mandatory reading in many Russian engineering schools.

Altshullers was a productive author, and his ideas eventually got a certain dissemination also in the West, not least through his both readable and amusing review book “And suddenly the inventor appeared: TRIZ, the theory of problem solving, based on thousands of letters he received from young people who read about the method in various Russian youth magazines. However, very few inventors and innovators in the West would be familiar with the method in detail.

The 40 principles of TRIZ are based on nine fundamental laws that can be used both for improvements of existing technologies and for identifying and developing brand new ones. Based on these principles, one can systematically review its technical problem to see it from all possible angles.

The approach is thus the absolute antithesis of the intuitive, associative thinking, but where the associative thinking can be applied to all problems and without much knowledge, the 40 principles of TRIZ would require a substantial of knowledge in engineering, physics and chemistry to be fully applied.

But for anyone who works with technical innovations, it may be useful to dig deeper into Altshuller’s TRIZ method, as it may provide insights that you may not otherwise have received.

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Vi ser bara vad vi förväntar oss att se

Foto: Washington Post

Strax före klockan 8 en kall januarimorgon 2007 kliver en ung man klädd i jeans, tröja och en basebollkeps in på en tunnelbanestation i centrala Washington DC. Han plockar upp en violin ur ett fodral, lägger fodralet på marken framför sig med några mynt i och under de nästkommande 43 minuterna spelar han sex klassiska stycken. Under denna tid passerar 1 097 personer. Tjugosju av dem lägger en slant, oftast i farten. Endast sju personer stannar upp och lyssnar i minst en minut, däribland en treårig svart pojke som med våld får dras därifrån av sin mamma. Totala intäkten blir 32 dollar och 17 cent.

Detta skulle kunnat vara en vanlig medioker gatumusikant, men det var det inte. Musikern var Joshua Bell, en av USA:s mest berömda violinister som några dagar tidigare hade spelat för fulla hus i Bostons Symphony Hall, där de billigaste biljetterna gått för 100 $.

Inledningsstycket i tunnelbanan var “Chaconne” ur Johann Sebastian Bachs Partita No. 2 i D moll, ett av musikhistoriens mest svårspelade stycken och den framfördes på en stradivariusviolin värd närmare 30 miljoner kronor.

Tips: Vi är så vana att se på saker ur ett visst perspektiv att vi bara ser det vi tror vi ser och då lurar vi oss själva. Om vi tror oss se ännu en gatumusikant så kopplar vi bort våra sinnen och hör musiken utan att lyssna.

Genom att ibland ta ett steg tillbaka och byta perspektiv så kan vi se nya möjligheter som annars skulle varit fördolda. Olika optiska illusioner bygger på denna programmering av vår hjärna. Först när vi betraktar något från en annan vinkel och från en annan utgångspunkt kan vi se de dolda sanningarna i bilden.

Läs hela historien om Joshua Bell

Tunnelbanevideon på YouTube

united-kingdom-flag-1- This blog post in English

We only see what we expect to see


Just before 8 o’clock in the morning of January 2007, a young man wearing jeans, sweater and a baseball cap steps into a subway station in central Washington DC. He picks up a violin from a case, puts the case on the ground in front of him with a few coins in and for the next 43 minutes he plays six classic pieces. During this time, 1 097 people pass. Twenty-seven of them put a coin in the case, usually on the go. Only seven people stay up and listen for at least one minute, including a three-year-old black boy who needs to be violently pulled from the place by his mother. The total revenue is 32 dollars and 17 cents.

This could be a regular mediocre street musician, but it was not. The musician was Joshua Bell, one of America’s most famous violinists who had played for the full house in Boston Symphony Hall a few days earlier, where the cheapest tickets went for $ 100. The start of the subway was “Chaconne” from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor, one of the most difficult plays of music history and performed on a Stradivarius violin worth $ 3.5 million.

We are so used to looking at things from a certain perspective that we only see what we think we see and then we are wondering ourselves. If we think we see another street musician, we disconnect our minds and listen to the music without listening.

By sometimes taking a step back and changing perspectives we can see new possibilities that would otherwise have been hidden. Different optical illusions are based on this programming of our brain. Only when we look at something from another angle and from another point of view can we see the hidden truths in the picture.

The video on YouTube

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