What you put into your body can affect how you feel. Studies show a connection between the foods we eat and how it affects our mental health. While our brain accounts for only 2% of our body, it takes a whopping 20% of our energy to run it!
With certain foods that contain nutrients and vitamins that can boost brain health and improve mood, it makes it worthwhile for some of us to fit more of these "mood foods" into our eating routine, empower yourself by choosing the foods that make you feel good!
Today I had the pleasure to engage in a discussion about food and mood with some curious people during our first cafe talk series, here is a summary of the discussion.
As we reflect on what healthy foods mean to us, it can be helpful to consider which foods make us feel good, which make our symptoms worst, and what are some of the foods studies show are best for our mental health, like fruits and vegetables.
You’ve always been told to eat all your veggies, many fruits and vegetables contain complex carbohydrates. For those of you who may not be familiar with carbohydrates, there are two kinds: complex and simple. Simple carbs are present the more processed a food is, like pastries, some pasta’s, and boxed food.
Finding accessible and affordable fruits and vegetables can be easy, look for sales, buy in season or even frozen! Moderate your intake of canned produce, but if this is not an option, look for the label, check the ingredients, look for BPA free and rinse your canned produce well!
Complex carbs are great for brain health, unlike simple carbs, complex carbs release energy into our bodies slowly, resulting in better mood over time.
Many fruits and vegetables also contain antioxidants and vitamins which help us deal with stress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or may be going through a tough time, upping your veg and fruit intake could help make these symptoms more manageable.
Whole Grains are high in fibre and really good for you! These include things like corn, brown rice, quinoa, oats, rye and barley. Whole grains are also great because they contain a type of amino acid that makes your body produce serotonin. Serotonin is a type of neurotransmitter which functions in the central nervous system and a hormone in the periphery– also known as the “happy chemical”, serotonin helps calm the mind, improve your mood, and keep your sleep cycle on track. All of which is helpful for maintaining good mental health.
Fermented foods like unsweetened yoghurts, kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut are thought to affect the same parts of your brain as some anti-depressants do. Eating more of them can help with feelings related to anxiety and depression. The good bacteria in fermented foods directly influences our mood and emotions. Various studies and research links gut health to mental health, coining the term "second brain", and the probiotics and prebiotics in fermented foods actively affect the environment of our stomachs. Not a fan of fermented foods? basically the important note here is probiotics and prebiotics, a healthier gut means a healthier brain, be kind to your body and inform yourself on the healthiest options.
We all need some fat in our diets. A couple fats are classed as essential because our bodies cannot produce them. Omega-3 is an essential fat, also known as "alpha-linolenic acid" (ALA). Omega-6 is another essential fat, also known as "linoleic acid" (LA). Omega-3 and omega-6 fats affect our immune system, brain, nerves and eyes. Your body can make ALA into other omega-3 fats, which are more common terms such as "including eicosapentaenoic acid" (EPA) and "docosahexaenoic acid" (DHA).
Good sources of omega-6 (LA) include hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts and soya. While good sources of omega-3 (ALA) include chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds and walnuts, vegetable oil as your main cooking oil can help with absorption.
Some of you might think " what about fish, isn't that a great source of fatty acids?", although fish can be a source of fatty acids, part of this discussion is about foods that can optimize your mental health, it's already a challenge dealing with the baggage that comes with poor mental health and mental illnesses, so it makes sense to try and find foods that come with the least amount of "baggage". Unlike fish, we are dealing with mercury, cholesterol, pesticides, and unfortunately, plastic, yuck!
In order to meet your daily recommendation of good sources of fatty acids, you would need to eat about a tablespoon of chia seeds or ground linseed, two tablespoons of hemp seeds or six walnuts halves daily.
Omega-3 acids are great for brain function, and help circulate serotonin and dopamine around your body. By fitting more seeds and walnuts into your diet, you’ll be helping improve feelings of depression while boosting your memory ability.
Finding ways to increase your daily consumption of these fatty acids can be easy, throw them in a smoothie, you can also include these seeds and nuts into salads, pasta dishes, breakfast bowls, and heaps more.
As a special treat, chocolate may have properties that improve mood and even reduce tension. But remember, the key is to choose real chocolate (dark is best "60% or more"), and in moderation.
Cutting back on other stuffIf eating the above foods helps to boost our mental health, there are certain types of foods that basically do the opposite. You may choose to avoid having too much of these if your mental health injuries are being inflamed or you're having a tough mental health day. These include:
Join us next time as we chat about chronic pain and mental health, on March 18th @ 11:30am!