A shift in eating more takeaway, processed snacks and energy foods high in sugar and unhealthy fats can take a toll on your physical and mental health. The old adage, “You are what you eat” could never be truer. What you eat feeds your brain but it needs good quality fuel to work at top capacity.
The brain works hard. It never stops and still works even while you sleep. Your brain takes care of your breathing, senses, movement, thoughts and heartbeat. So what you eat directly affects how your brain functions and your moods.
We were taught as children that eating well keeps us feeling and looking our best. But you may not know that good nutrition also affects your mental health. Eating a well-balanced diet helps you feel more alert so you can think clearly. Good food improves your concentration and attention span.
On the other hand, a poor diet can make you feel tired, slow down your reactions and make decision-making difficult. It can also aggravate the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Good quality food feeds your brain
Good food contains the antioxidants, vitamins and minerals your brain needs for nourishment. This protects the brain from oxidative stress which is the waste your body produces when using oxygen. And this can damage the cells in your body.
Eating low quality food such as processed and refined foods, causes the brain to have trouble getting rid of them from your body. These foods harm your brain just as poor quality fuel damages the engine of an expensive car. Many studies show the relationship between diets high in refined and processed foods and a decline in the brain’s function. It also affects your mood and can increase the symptoms of mental health issues such as depression.
What you eat affects you
The neurotransmitter serotonin regulates your appetite and sleep, affects your moods and prevents pain. Your gastrointestinal tract produces around 95 percent of the serotonin your body needs. The gastrointestinal tract has millions of neurons (or nerve cells) lining it and the food you eat influences how the neurons work. They need good bacteria to protect your intestines and are a strong barrier against bad bacteria and toxins. Good bacteria improves the absorption of nutrients from what you eat and helps to limit inflammation. They also activate the direct neural paths between your gut and the brain.
Studies comparing typical Western diets with the Mediterranean diet show the risk of depression drops compared to a traditional diet. This could be because the Mediterranean diet has its basis in fresh fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, seafood and fish with only small amounts of dairy products and meat. A Mediterranean diet does not include refined and processed sugars and fats. Many of the foods are fermented so they are a natural probiotic that is good for you.
Foods to improve your mental health
We all understand that eating healthy foods improves the body. But do you know what foods will improve your brain’s functioning? Here are some foods that will help your brain and boost your mood.
Oily fish has a fatty acid, DHA, which can improve your short and long-term memory and can reduce anxiety and boost your mood. Fish is a fabulous brain food.
Fish also contains omega 3 acids. These are also good for your brain function and helps the dopamine and serotonin (the feel good chemicals) flow through your body. Eating more fish such as salmon, trout and prawns will boost your memory and help relieve feelings of depression and anxiety.
Even if you can only get tinned fish, it is still good for you. Use fish with a salad, in pasta dishes and wraps. There are many fabulous ways to include fish into your diet. Do a Google search for great recipe ideas.
Wholegrain foods are high in fibre
Wholegrain foods are a source of tryptophan, an amino acid, that helps your body produce serotonin. Serotonin assists in calming your mind and improving your mood.
Corn, quinoa, oats, brown rice, barley and rye are all high in fibre and super good for you. Kickstart your day with a bowl of oats to boost your brain. Whenever you feel down or have no energy, eat some quinoa, barley, rye or brown rice to release serotonin into your system.
Fruit and vegetables boost brain health
As a kid your parents probably always told you to eat your fruit and vegetables. They are good for you. And they are. Most contain complex carbohydrates which boost brain health. These slowly release into your system which can improve your mood during the day.
Many fruits and vegetables also have vitamins and antioxidants that help reduce stress. So eating your fruit and vegies can help you feel better.
Leafy greens such as kale and spinach slow down the decline of your brain as you age when eaten every day. Add fresh carrots and bright coloured capsicums to stews, sandwiches, salads and soups to keep your brain in good health. Apples and bananas make great snacks throughout the day.
Eat fermented foods for a healthier mind
Fermented foods such as unsweetened yoghurts have probiotics that can help reverse the symptoms of depression. So eating yoghurt and other fermented foods like kombucha and kimchi can improve how you feel.
The good bacteria directly affects your gut health and helps your digestive system operate properly. With a link between the gut and brain health, it assists your mental health and can lower your stress, and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
So do yourself a favour and eat more natural yoghurt. It is a great breakfast option, a healthy dessert with fruit or a snack. Just make sure you do not eat the yoghurts loaded with sugar.
Cut back on processed and refined foods
While there are good foods that help your mental health, there are foods that do the opposite. So when you feel down, emotional and low on energy, look at the foods you are eating.
Processed foods and sugar can cause inflammation in your brain and throughout your body. This can contribute to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Often when you feel low or lack energy, you can turn to processed foods as a quick fix. How often has a cup of coffee been breakfast when you are on the run in the morning? Or rather than cook a healthy dinner, chips and a block of chocolate has been a substitute. How often do you do this? Does it make you feel better or worse physically and mentally?
Some of the foods to avoid or to at least cut back on include:
- Saturated fats. Saturated fats are unhealthy and used in processed foods and takeaway food. These are bad fats that impair your brain function making it harder to recall things and focus.
- Alcohol. As we see so often, alcohol can negatively affect your mental health. It can leave you feeling depressed, impair your decision-making, upset your sleeping patterns and make it difficult to focus. Cutting back on how much alcohol you drink can improve your overall health as well as your mental health.
- Sugar. Sugar is an addictive substance that has no nutritional value. It has a negative effect on your brain and hinders your mental capacity. Try cutting back on the sugary foods you consume daily.
Tips for healthy eating
Tips for healthy eating include:
- Avoiding processed snacks as they weaken your concentration. Also forego sugar based snacks such a sweets and soft drinks as they can cause highs and lows in your energy levels.
- Making a shopping list of healthy food options and sticking to it.
- Not shopping while hungry to avoid making poor food choices.
- Eating plenty of healthy fats such as avocadoes, and coconut and olive oils to support your brain function.
- Eating fruits, nuts or something healthy as a snack to stave off hunger. You will get more energy from these than from processed foods.
Be mindful of what you eat
Be mindful of what you eat. Pay attention to the food you eat and how it makes you feel. This is a good first step to eating a well-balanced diet. To do this try keeping a food diary to document what, where and when you eat to understand any eating patterns.
Do you overeat when feeling stressed? If so, stop what you are doing when you feel like eating and write how you feel in the food diary. This can help you understand what is really making you feel this way. When you are not eating enough, eat five or six small meals a day instead of three large ones.
When stress and depression become severe, it can cause eating disorders. Sometimes you may need help to manage your eating before it jeopardises your health. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness when you are coping with difficult situations.
Food for the brain
Good nutrition is essential for building new cells, proteins and tissues to keep your brain and nervous system health. For your body to function effectively, it needs minerals, carbohydrates and proteins. To get the food you need to improve your mental function, you need to eat variety of foods daily instead of the same old meals every day.
The top three foods for a diet to support your mental health includes:
- Lean proteins. Lean proteins give your body the energy it needs to think and react quickly. Lean proteins include meat, soybeans, fish, chicken, seeds, eggs and nuts.
- Complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates such as starchy vegetables and brown rice give you energy. Sweet potatoes, millet, quinoa and beets are more nutritional and keep you satisfied longer than the simple carbohydrates in sugar and sweet foods.
- Fatty acids. You need fatty acids so your nervous system and brain can function properly. Flaxseeds, meat, eggs, fish and nuts are good sources of fatty acids.
We are here to help
When depression and anxiety affects you, it may be hard to overcome especially when you struggle with mental health issues. Dealing with depression makes cheering yourself up tough especially if you do not eat well. Even when you have support, you may feel people do not really understand or it is not enough. And when you are taking medication, sometimes you may need something more. If you are struggling, consider reaching out. When you are not coping, contact us to find out how we aim to help get your life back on track. But, if you reach crisis point, call us immediately. We give you support you through a crisis and may be able to help you quickly deal with things better.
We can work with you over the phone, via Skype or in our Spas. Book in today for my Emotional Empowerment Program. I have an introductory offer for just $79 so you may start taking back control of your life. We aim to support you to help you cope with the challenges of anxiety, stress and depression. With our help, you may alleviate the effects of mental health issues and look forward to a future filled with happiness and joy.
Let me help alleviate the effects of mental health issues
My Emotional Empowerment Program has helped many people like you deal with all types of mental health challenges for more than a decade. We may help you move through and deal with stress, depression and anxiety which can be the root cause of mental health issues. My aim is to help you replace these with happiness, peace and contentment in weeks not years so you may see a positive future. Listen to what Jasmine has to say about my program after only a few sessions.