How does nutrition affect our mental health?
The presence of depression, anxiety or other forms of mental health can take a huge toll on the wellbeing of many Australians, as well as our society as a whole. Added to that, mental health issues can also increase the risk of chronic physical conditions such as arthritis, heart disease and diabetes.
Diet and lifestyle play a major role in managing any health condition, as well as having a direct impact on the brain’s health and function. In other words, good nutrition not only nourishes your body, it feeds your brain and plays a vital part in the state of your mental health.
Junk food does impact our mental health
A poor diet is a clear risk factor for mental health. Research shows that those who consume the most junk food, have a higher risk of developing depression than those with the lowest consumption of junk food.
Different foods affect different hormones and neurotransmitter levels – all of which have subsequent flow on effects on health, mental health and our mood. Starchy, sugary foods impair the body’s production of insulin, but they also promote inflammation and oxidation, further damaging the brain structure and function.
Good nutrition and great mental health
The microbiome plays a critical role in mental health, mood and other health conditions – as well as being essential for supporting the immune system. Fascinatingly, more than 80 per cent of the immune system is located within the gut.
The bacteria within the gut not only helps to digest food and absorb nutrients, but it also nourishes the mucosal gut cells which provides a barrier protection from ingested pathogens, viruses, food particles and other toxins.
The microbiome directly communicates with and influences the brain, with a healthy gut flora being associated with increased stress resilience.
The best foods for mental health
Nutrient rich foods are incredibly important for promoting good sleep. Tryptophan rich foods help trigger production of melatonin which can support sleep. Tart cherries have also been linked with reduced sleep onset time, while valerian has evidence for reducing sleep wake frequency.
The brain is 60 per cent fat, so Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) play a critical role in brain health. The best foods associated with brain ‘wellbeing’ include fatty fish, chia seeds, algae as well as other beneficial fats such as avocado, nuts, olive oil and coconut oil – all of which help to nourish the brain.
Nutrients to improve mental health
The key nutrients associated with mental health are: Folate, Iron, Magnesium, Omega 3 fats, Potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Selenium, Zinc and Vitamins B1, B6 and B12, antioxidants.
The eight best sources of food for mental health include:
- Leafy greens. These vegetables are packed with important and powerful nutrients that are critical for good health. Fortunately, many leafy greens are found year-round and can easily be incorporated into meals in easy and delicious ways. kale, spinach, micro-greens, cabbage, beet greens, watercress, bok choy and endive are some of the best nutritional sources of leafy greens.
- Peppers. Red peppers are the most nutritional because they’ve been on the vine the longest. Green peppers are harvested earlier, before they turn yellow, orange, and then red. Red Peppers have almost 11 times more beta-carotene and 1.5 times more Vitamin C than green peppers.
- Seafoods. Salmon is famously nutritious, while cod – a flaky white fish is a great source of phosphorus, niacin, and Vitamin B-12. Herring is a fantastically healthful fish, similar to sardines. Mahi-mahi, mackerel, perch, rainbow trout and tuna are also all excellent sources of nutritious and (flavoursome) protein.
- Cruciferous vegetables. These vegetables are great sources of phytonutrients, which are plant-based compounds that can help to lower inflammation and reduce the risk of developing cancer. Some of the best examples of these vegetables that pack a punch include arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and radish.
- Garden vegetables. It’s hard to go past fabulous, flavoursome, easy to grow garden vegetables for all-round nutritional value. These common, but wonderful vegetables include spinach, carrots, broccoli, garlic and green peas.
- Herbs. These flavour-rich mini-greens that add high nutritional value and character to food include oregano, basil, thyme, dill, sage and rosemary.
- Berries. Known as the ‘superfood of fruits’, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries and grapes are not just delicious, they are highly – highly, nutritious.
- Organ Meats. While not for everyone, those these foods are also highly nutritious. In fact, most are more nutrient-dense than muscle meat. They are particularly rich in B-Vitamins, such as Vitamin B12 and folate as well as minerals, including iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc, plus important fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamins A, D, E and K. Examples include liver, kidney, brain, heart and tongue.
Want to increase energy, improve mood and have better mental focus? What you eat is the key
Take your diet and nutrition to the next level with Pip Taylor, an Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Sports Dietitian with 15 years’ experience as a professional athlete.
Pip’s clients range from professional sportspeople and elite athletes, aspiring athletes, executives, and everyday people looking to take their personal fitness to new highs.
Pip offers tailored plans, tools and education, designed to fuel your body for the highest performance in sport, work and life; using your diet to increase energy, improve mood and mental focus.
A range of solutions are available, from one-off strategy sessions ($185), to three-month kicker programs, to customised VIP plans. If you are ready to elevate your health and fitness, call 6685 6326 for a complimentary 15-minute phone consult with Pip to discuss your goals.