Healthy eating is the cornerstone of a healthy body and a healthy life, but food is so much more than fuel for your body. Nutrients from the food we eat are also essential to how our brain works, which means our food choices can also impact upon our mental health.
People who experience mental health issues have lower intakes of fruit and vegetables compared to those who don’t report mental health issues. They also have a higher intake of less healthy food including chips, chocolate, and takeaway foods. If your food intake consists of a lot of processed food that is high in sugar and fat, it may be contributing to your mood and mental health. We can improve our mood and feelings of wellbeing by including healthy, nutritious, less processed foods in our daily food choices. A number of nutrients in particular have been shown to have an effect on our mental health and wellbeing.
Carbohydrates can affect mood and behaviour. Low carbohydrate diets are very popular at the moment, however a low carbohydrate diet may lead to low mood, as the production of brain chemicals that promote feelings of wellbeing are triggered by eating foods that contain carbohydrate. Choosing good quality, less processed sources of carbohydrate is more likely to provide a sustained effect on mood and brain chemistry, as well as energy levels and blood glucose levels. These foods include wholegrain breads and cereals, dairy products, fruits, and some vegetables.
Good quality protein is also important for mental health and wellbeing. The amino acids that form protein are essential for the production of brain chemicals and can affect brain function. Deficiencies of some of these amino acids are common in people with mental health conditions. Good sources of high quality protein include red meat, chicken, fish and other seafood, eggs, dairy products, nuts, and legumes.
Omega 3 fatty acids are important for heart health and reducing inflammation in our body, and they also have an essential role in the maintaining the structure and function of our brain. One of the most common nutritional deficiencies seen in people with mental health conditions is omega 3 fatty acids. While these healthy fats can be found in nuts, lean red meat, fish and seafood, the richest source of omega 3 is oily fish like tuna, salmon, sardines, and mackerel. A high intake of fish appears to be linked to a lower incidence of mental health conditions as a result of these omega 3 fatty acids.
B group vitamins, including folate, are also involved in the production of brain chemicals and deficiencies are common in those with mental health conditions. We often think about folate as being important for pregnant women, but low levels of folate in the blood is often seen in people with depression. You can increase your intake of folate by including green, leafy vegetables like spinach and rocket, legumes, and wholegrain breads and cereals. Other B vitamins are found in lean meat, eggs, dairy products, nuts, as well as wholegrain breads and cereals.
A variety of minerals also have important roles in our brain chemistry, particularly zinc and magnesium. Deficiencies of these nutrients have been associated with depression and anxiety. Good sources of zinc include oysters, lean red meat, wholegrain breads and cereals, nuts and seeds. To increase your intake of magnesium, include more nuts, legumes, wholegrain breads and cereals, and green, leafy vegetables.
A healthy diet is as important for mental health and wellbeing as it is for our physical health. We can help protect our mental health by including good quality carbohydrate and protein, healthy fats like omega 3 fatty acids, and a range of vitamins and minerals. Get some inspiration for dinner tonight and see how easy it can be to include these important nutrients and put together a healthy, delicious meal, with my recipe for Oven Baked Salmon and Vegetables.
If you would like help with developing healthy eating or lifestyle behaviours, or if you would like to know more about balancing your intake to improve your mental health and wellbeing, please contact me. You can find my contact details and how to book an appointment on our website at www.zestinfusion.com.au
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