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Feed your happy brain: nutrition & mental health

March 15th, 2021 by
Category: Uncategorized

overhead shot of large salad bowl and cut vegetables on a kitchen counter

Have you ever noticed that what you eat and drink can lift or lower your spirits? What we consume can affect the ways we think, how we feel, and how we behave. 

Nutrition doesn’t just affect us physically, but mentally too. Certain foods can lift our moods. They can help us concentrate, and they can boost our energy levels. However, others tend to have the opposite effect. 

Studies show that following a diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and whole grains can help reduce your risk of certain mental health conditions. A diet high in sugar and saturated fats has proven to be detrimental to cognitive function, which can have negative emotional impacts on your overall mental health.

Does nutrition influence mental health?

There is no short answer to what influences mental health

It’s widely recognized that several factors play major roles in overall mental health. However, nutrition is one of these factors, as what you feed your body feeds your brain.

To stay as healthy as possible, the human brain requires complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, and amino acids and water. The latter is especially important, as our brains are roughly 75% water. Because of this, it’s vital that we consume the recommended daily intake of water (approximately eight glasses) to maintain healthy brain function. 

Water can go a long way in helping us balance our moods and emotions. By drinking water, we help improve our cognitive function and concentration. Plus, we increase the blood flow and oxygen to our brains, which aids in reducing stress levels. 

A brain that’s adequately hydrated is optimal, as it will help our bodies’ exchange of nutrients and toxins become more efficient. This ensures that we enjoy higher levels of concentration and peak mental performance. 

Why do we need to feed our brains?

Our brains are constantly working, even when we sleep. As a result, we need to give them a constant supply of fuel. This “fuel” can be primarily obtained through a balanced diet that’s as rich in nutrients as possible. If you’ve ever been through a period of under eating or skipping meals, you will probably recall feeling sluggish or foggy. This is most likely because of a decrease in blood sugar levels. 

With the busy schedules that are so commonplace these days, low blood sugars are an almost daily reality for many of us. Busy schedules often mean high levels of stress, which can quickly leave us having to reach for the easiest, most convenient foods. 

There’s rarely time to sit down and have a healthy meal, or drink enough water to stay hydrated. 

This has a direct impact on our food choices, forcing us to compromise a well-intended diet for quick snacks and stimulants in a desperate attempt to find an extra source of energy. However, in the long run, this has the opposite effect, and zaps both our physical and mental energies.

Aim for your five a day

Despite the challenges that come with trying to balance your nutritional needs with a modern lifestyle, aim to at least get your recommended five servings of fresh fruit and vegetables every day. This can take the form of a pre-packed fruit salad, snacking on raw fruits and vegetables, or even downing a green juice first thing in the morning. Do whatever best suits you to help you meet this target. 

Fruits and vegetables contain so many of the essential minerals, vitamins, and fiber that we need to consume to keep us physically and mentally healthy. 

By eating a wide variety of different colored fruit and vegetables daily, you can help ensure that your body enjoys a range of important nutrients. 

Below are a few quick tips to help you get your 5 a day

  • As a rule of thumb, one portion of your five a day measures roughly one handful, a small glass, or small bowl.
  • Your five a day can consist of fresh, frozen, tinned, dried, or juiced fresh produce.
  • Try to add a variety of color to your dishes. This can encourage you to eat more fruit and vegetables in one sitting. Think stir fry, fruit salads, or roast vegetables. 

Remember your gut

Your gut is often linked to your mental health because it’s one of the first places the human body registers a physiological reaction to a mental feeling. For example, if you feel stressed or anxious, your gut could either slow down or speed up.

To maintain optimal digestion, you need to drink plenty of fluid, exercise regularly, and eat lots of fiber. 

Foods that are good for your gut include fruits and vegetables, whole-grains, pulses, beans, yogurt and anything else with good probiotics. When eating for a healthy gut, remember that:

  • It could take time to get used to any new eating pattern. Making slow changes can give your body adequate time to adjust.
  • If you think that your stress or anxiety is affecting your gut, try relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises. 

A healthy diet can boost a healthy mind

Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Slow down where you can and enjoy it. 

What we eat can make a major difference to the health and function of our brains, our body, and even our sleep patterns. But our diet is not the only factor affecting our mental health. Where possible, try not to rush through meals or skip them, and always make mindful choices when eating. 

When we skip meals, our blood sugar drops, which could lead to mood swings, irritability, or interruptions in our overall ability to think clearly and make rational decisions. The long-term effect of this is your body producing more cortisol, which leaves you feeling more stressed and anxious. Try your best to enjoy healthy, balanced meals wherever and whenever possible–but don’t forget to treat yourself to some cake for endorphins every now and then too!

by Ellen Klein, Editor at Sleep Junkie

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