We all know what we put into our mouths affects our physical health and our weight. But did you know nutrition plays a huge role in our mental health too both directly and indirectly?
The World Health Organisation predicted that depression will be the second-leading cause of burden on society among all diseases worldwide by the year 2020!
And when I say mental health I don’t just mean depression and anxiety, I’m also referring to memory, cognition, feelings of fatigue or brain fog, dementia, addiction and importantly brain development for the youngsters. A healthy diet across the lifespan as well as physical activity is ESSENTIAL for our mental health and to help us get the most out of life!
So how can we look after our brain and emotions through diet?
Make sure to eat a good breakfast.
A high fibre, moderate protein breakfast every day with some fruit or vegetable such as avocado or berries has been shown to have several positive cognitive functions, especially in children. Without a nutrient rich breakfast we cannot learn, or work to our full potential. This point is exceptionally important in the mental health of children and adolescents who are growing and learning heading to school each day.
Maintain a healthy weight/lose a few kilos.
People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk of mental health illnesses such as anxiety, stress, depression, low self-esteem and even being subject to bullying. This can often trigger a viscous cycle as people who are overweight might have low self-esteem, become depressed and withdrawn and use unhealthy food to make themselves feel better- hence contributing to further weight gain. By losing those excess kilos we can become happier and feel healthier, not rely on treat foods to make us feel better, and therefore increase our productivity and ability to deal with daily stresses. Think MORE fruits, Veg, lean meats and low fat dairy.
Reduce intake of saturated and Trans fats and refined foods. Think chips, cakes, lollies, ice cream, soft drink, burgers, pizza, pastries, refined cereal, white breads, and chocolates. Studies have shown that higher intakes of high GI and refined foods are positively associated with depression and anxiety disorders. These foods can also play havoc on our emotions. Often we feel great whilst consuming these foods, enjoying the taste, smell and endorphin feelings, however when our blood sugar levels raise so quickly in response to the high sugar and then quickly plummets soon after– so does our mood. These foods also play a role in increasing inflammation markers and oxidative stress in the body and brain which can affect our memory, learning and cognitive function.
Consume more Omega 3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fats provide building material for our brains essential for signalling and optimum brain function. A diet higher in omega 3 fatty acids can also be protective in preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s. Omega 3’s come from foods including fatty fish (salmon, trout, mackerel), fish oil, chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds.
Hydrate! Drinking enough water and making sure not only our body is hydrated but also our brain is important in preventing fatigue, that brain fog feeling and increasing productivity. Make sure to drink 1.5-2 L of water per day.
Include some protein at each meal and snack time to get our dose of tryptophan to increase satiety and prevent the urges to binge on treats and crave sugar later on. Many protein foods such as nuts, salmon, seeds provide healthy fats also good for our brain function.
Eat foods containing polyphenols. Polyphenols protect neurons in the brain against injury induced by neurotoxins, suppress neuroinflammation, and promote memory, learning, and cognitive function. Polyphenols are known for their Anti-oxidant properties as they help reduce oxidative stress in our cells. Oxidative stress is an important contributor in the development of dementia. Foods containing polyphenols include citrus fruits, cocoa, red wine, green tea, parsley and celery, soy, onions, leeks, broccoli.
Limit caffeine and alcohol intake. A reliance on caffeine, or too many cups of tea, coffee, cokes or energy drinks is linked to anxiety disorders. Restrict yourself to 3-4 cups of coffee per day.
Alcohol is in a class of drugs called depressants. Although we get happy feelings and relax when we have a couple of drinks, this is a result of the nervous system being depressed or slowed down. Too many drinks can make us feel down, dehydrate us and lead to addictive behaviours.
Get enough vitamin D. Vitamin D we require mostly comes from the sunshine. Make sure to get outside, expose your face, arms and upper body to some sunshine for at least 10 minutes a day. Taking a few deep breaths outside also helps us stay in the moment, and help protect us from feelings of stress and anxiety.
EXERCISE! Exercise is fantastic for our brain, clinically proven to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, improve cognition and improve our mood.