Food for Thought & Mental Wellbeing

When we consider mental health, we look at the cognitive decline and mood disorders of which both can be impacted by the food that we eat.

Your brain is the control center of everything that happens within our body’s thoughts, productivity, hormones and mood.  It is absolutely vital that we do our best to take care of it.  It also works around the clock and therefor requires a lot of fuel from the food that we eat.

Remember that looking after your brain health begins with caring for your body.

There are lots of factors that impact our brain health like trauma, genes, infections but in this article, we will only look at nutrition and lifestyle related factors:

1. A diet consisting mainly of highly processed foods and refined carbohydrates and sugar have shown to negatively impact our brain health examples are: chips, soft drinks, candy, chocolate, ice cream, packaged soups, breakfast cereals, chicken nuggets, hotdogs, French fries. These foods can also increase inflammation which can have a negative impact on our brain health.

2. Gastro-intestinal health has a major impact on brain health which most of us does not realize.  Think about it, when you are nervous you get that feeling in your strange feeling in the pit of your stomach and also when you have a really bad headache it is usually accompanied by nausea.  They are connected!! Making sure your GUT is in tip top shape even if you don’t have symptoms are of utmost importance

3. Blood sugar imbalances due to having too much from the foods discussed in point 1.  Insulin is the hormone that regulates sugar in our bodies and when too much is excreted it negatively impacts our brain health.

4. Living a sedentary lifestyle has been negatively associated with brain health and linked to anxiety and depression in people of all ages.

5. Last but not least sleep… If you have ever gone through 7 nights of sleep deprivation (all new moms can relate) you have experienced first-hand the effects on your mood as well as your memory.

Now that we know what impacts our mental health let’s look at how what we can do to improve these factors as well as my top food and nutrients:

A diet consisting mainly of whole foods that are nutrient dense is associated with robust mental health these include vegetables, fruits, fats, legumes, protein and complex carbohydrates.

• Fatty fish like sardines, pilchards, mackerel, herring, salmon, trout and tuna contain omega 3 fatty acids which has been extensively researched in the context of optimal brain health.

• Pre- and probiotics to support GUT health.  Pre-biotics are the food for your organisms that live within our GUT (probiotics) and include onions, garlic, fennel, sweet potato, green tip bananas and also including natural sources of probiotics from kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt or taking a good probiotic supplement.

• Vitamin B rich foods are essential cofactors in neurotransmitter production of which B6, folate and B12 are particularly important.  They are found in poultry, fish, pork, eggs, bananas, dark leafy greens, brussels sprouts, avocado and red meat.

• Vitamin D plays a critical role in supporting mental health and is our sunshine hormone.  I would also suggest having your levels checked through a blood test to establish if you need extra.

• Berries contain anti-inflammatory properties that help protect our brains against damage from our environment and toxins

Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric that also have very powerful anti-inflammatory properties to help protect our brain. It may also benefit memory and can help new brain cells to grow

• Coffee and Dark chocolate are also anti-inflammatory and contain caffeine that can increase alertness, improve mood and sharpened concentration.  Obviously within moderation

• Nuts contain healthy fats, antioxidants and vitamin E which contributes to better brain health

• Eggs contain a nutrient called choline which helps to regulate mood and memory

• Green Tea as with coffee due to the caffeine can boost brain function but contains other important nutrients like L-theanine and antioxidants that improve brain health.

Many foods can increase our mental health and should be strategically included in our diets to assist with alertness, memory and mood. This is especially critical now because of the fear and anxiety which is induced by the lockdown. Prioritize your mental health and mind, we are shaped by our thoughts and the happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.

Article contributed by (TROVE) Registered Dietician – Ezette Oosthuizen

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