Eating Well for Positive Mental Health

As I help people live a happy and fulfilled life, I feel strongly about mind-body connections and the need to look at “bigger picture.” If someone drinks a lot of sugary coffee drinks and feels anxious, or eats fast food for lunch and feels unmotivated in the afternoon, there just may be a connection.

Just sayin’ ;-)

So today I wanted to share some ways to boost your mental health by eating specific foods, and I will give a brief run-down of what each nutrient provides in the 2nd half of the article. Remember, the mind and body are inseparable!

Our mental health has an effect on our overall wellbeing, quality of life, cognition, and our decision-making abilities. One way to improve our mental health is to choose foods that are rich in key nutrients that promote both physical and mental health. Key nutrients can help increase the production of neurotransmitters in the brain, which in turn has an affect on how we feel.

  First, here are a some general tips to keep in mind:

 • High fiber and low fat is good for both your heart and your mood.

• Eating healthy snacks throughout the day (i.e., fruits, vegetables and whole grains) help to keep blood sugar level steady, which in turn can help prevent mood swings.

• Meals and snacks filled with sugar and refined flour cause blood sugar levels peak at drastic highs and lows, which may also cause moods, energy and concentration to fluctuate. Sugary foods and carbohydrates only provide a temporary boost in energy or mood.

• Fast, processed or fatty foods cause us to feel sluggish and sleepy.

A note about carbs: We crave carbohydrates when we feel stressed or anxious because they have a calming effect on us by increasing the production of serotonin in the brain. Pairing protein with carbohydrates can also increase serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which can help a person become more alert. (It is the amino acids in protein that aid in the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain.) Moderation and quality of the carbs are key.

Although caffeine can boost mood, an excess of caffeine can cause irritability or sleeplessness. Caffeine, much like sugar, can provide a spike in energy but ultimately drop into fatigue.

Alcohol can also have a negative effect on mood and sleep patterns as it acts as a depressant.

Now for some specific examples of nutrients that have a positive association with mental health:

  • OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS are as effective as antidepressants and can elevate mood, (particularly EPAs and DHAs). Foods rich in Omega 3s: oily fish, walnuts and flax seeds.

  • B VITAMINS: Help with mood improvement. Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is necessary for maintaining energy as people who are deficient in B1 can feel irritable or depressed. Foods rich in B1: include legumes, seeds, and fortified grains. Vitamin B9 (folate): Aids in proper nerve function. Like deficiency in other B vitamins, people who lack sufficient folate may feel depressed, apathetic, and fatigued, sleep poorly or have trouble concentrating. Foods rich in folate: leafy greens, citrus fruits, legumes, meats, poultry fish and dairy. In addition to B1 and B9, B2 and B6 help with mood improvement.

  • ANTIOXIDANTS: People who are depressed have oxidated stress in their brains, and antioxidants can help combat oxidated stress. Foods rich in antioxidants: blueberries, turmeric, ginger, spinach cherries and green tea.

  • SELENIUM: Acts as an antioxidant; good for energy and anxiety. Selenium rich foods: beans, legumes, nuts, seats and lean meat.

  • VITAMIN D: Positive effect on attention, mood, motivation, enthusiasm and alertness. Very few foods are rich in vitamin D; however, cod liver oil and certain types of fish (like salmon) rank at the top of the list.

  • IRON: Apathy, depression, and tiring easily can be caused by lack of iron. Foods rich in iron: dark green leafy vegetables, meal, poultry and fish.

Other examples of nutrients mentioned in literature and research include zinc, magnesium, vitamin C and tryptophan. Probiotics are also great. There are mixed reviews on chocolate and mood, depending on which articles or studies you want to go with. :) Again, moderation is key. (I'll take a small piece of dark chocolate, please!)

Of course as your MD and do your research on GMOs, organics and mercury level in certain types of fish, etc. Limiting meat consumption – in general – can increase overall energy, alertness and positive mental health. Juicing, which provides phytonutrients and antioxidants is excellent for brain function and clarity. I personally love green juice!!

The key is to eat mindfully. And to remember to drink a ton of H2O.

If you're still with me here, you ROCK! Until next time, stay well!

I want to hear from you!  What are some healthy foods and nutrients that keep you alert and mentally healthy?