Food for *Good* Thoughts! Nutrition for Mental Wellbeing.

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Amidst the COVID19 Pandemic, a lot of people have suffered from Mental Health-related issues. As someone who has struggled with my own mental health issues and has seen what I eat effect how I feel mentally as well as seen a massive difference in the clients/ patients that I work with when incorporating some of these tips, I hope that this blog post is helpful for anyone else out there struggling.

As a disclaimer, I am NOT suggesting that food can be used as a replacement for medications. However, I do believe that a combination of therapy, medication, and a healthy lifestyle can be utilized to treat and prevent mental illnesses.

It’s important to note that consuming a variety of different proteins, fats, and carbohydrates is the best approach when it comes to healthy eating. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “eat the rainbow” — that’s an awesome approach to go by and I highly encourage it!

The reason for this rainbow-eating approach is that different foods contain different antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Therefore, when you vary what you eat, you expose your body to an array of different nutritious molecules that are all needed for optimal functioning. When you give your body what it needs to function at it’s best, you’ll be surprised at how well it does at recovery, healing, digesting, and well.. overall functioning at it’s optimal state!

Nevertheless, there are some specific nutrients that could specifically improve your overall mental wellbeing. So, if you’re looking to increase your brain health and functioning with food, you are in the right place.

Antioxidants

By incorporating more antioxidant-rich foods into your diet, you can help support your brain health by reducing harmful inflammation associated with decreased mental wellbeing. Antioxidants also fight free radicals and decrease oxidative stress in the body, therefore promoting better mental wellbeing. Particularly antioxidant-rich foods have been shown to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Some antioxidant-rich foods include

  • Berries, grapes, apples, cherries
  • Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, spring mix)
  • Brightly colored fruits and vegetables like yellow bell peppers
  • Dark chocolate (Hooray!)– Try to consume 85% or more dark chocolate if you like the taste
  • Artichokes
  • Goji berries
  • Beets
  • Beans

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids also act to decrease inflammation in the body and can interact with brain chemicals. Although more research is needed in this space, omega 3’s have been shown to improve mood disorders and depression.

Unlike omega 6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory, omega 3 fats are anti-inflammatory and harder to find in the standard American diet. Although we need both omega 6 and omega 3 fats, the problem is that most people are consuming WAY too much omega 6 fats leading to high levels of inflammation throughout the body– including the brain.

So, how can you consume more omega 3 fatty acids? I suggest that you include these anti-inflammatory fats into dishes you may already be making! For example, I added some walnuts into this delicious banana bread!

Another easy way to add more omega 3 fats into your diet is to add small seeds like chia and flaxseed to your smoothies, oatmeal, cereals, or baked goods. Check out my Chia Seed Banana Pudding for some more omega-3 rich and brain-boosting meal ideas!

Some omega-3 containing foods include

  • Salmon
  • Walnuts
  • Pecans
  • Chia Seeds
  • Flax Seeds

Gut Health

The gut is physically connected to the brain through our Vagus nerve and chemically connected via hormones and neurotransmitters. So what’s happening in your gut is communicated to your brain and vice versa. Therefore, the wellbeing of your gut is just as important as the wellbeing of the rest of your body. Studies have shown that having anxiety and depression can cause changes in your gut microbiome and that changes in your gut microbiome can trigger anxiety and depression.

The best way to support your gut health through diet is by eating whole, plant-based foods as well as included fermented foods like pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut.

Whole plant foods are loaded with FIBER! Which, is the substance that the bacteria in our gut eat to stay full & healthy (haha). AKA prebiotics. In a simplified explanation, when we feed our gut bacteria with healthy fuel they, in turn, are healthier.

On the other hand, fermented foods contain probiotics which are the actual healthy bacteria needed for proper gut functioning. So, basically you are replenishing your gut with healthy bacteria by consuming probiotic rich foods.

A good way to mix probiotics with prebiotics and antioxidants is by having kefir with mixed berries (YUM)! 🙂

All in all, food CAN effect your mood and mental wellbeing. However, which foods are best for you specifically to include into your diet will vary greatly from person to person. Therefore, I recommend working with a Registered Dietitian and Doctor to come up with an individualized nutritional game-plan specific for you and your needs! I hope this helped.

Check out my news segment on this topic it you haven’t already!

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