Neuronutrition for Positive Mental Health
As a continuation to last week’s blog post about mental health and in an effort to continue education and awareness, this week’s post will focus on foods for optimal mental health and natural ways to deal with a mental health issue or prevent one from occurring.
As mentioned last week, mental health problems are more common than you may realize.
We are all affected by mental health problems at one time or another. We can all feel depressed, stressed, frightened, or unsafe at various times. More likely than not, these feelings pass. For some people, however, they can develop into a more serious long-term problem.
Should this happen to you, what can you do about it?
Proper Diet for Mental Health: Neuronutrition
As a nutritionist, what I eat and what I recommend my clients eat based on their individual needs and goals is paramount.
For those suffering any type of mental illness, neuronutrition can be life-altering. Food consumed can become medicine or it can become poison, ultimately worsening a mental health issue.
Sadly, less than half of those with a mental health problem eat fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Typically, they also tend to eat fewer healthy foods and more unhealthy ones.
To balance moods and feelings, and to attain a sense of wellbeing, ensuring that we eat the right foods should be priority. Ample essential fatty acids, complex carbs, protein, certain vitamins and minerals, and pure water should be the cornerstone of one’s diet.
What should (and shouldn’t) you eat?
Limit high-sugar foods and processed carbs. Sugar and foods that easily convert to sugar (bread, pasta, cookies, and soda for example) are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. This process results in an initial surge of energy and feelings of wellbeing. This is why most depressed people cannot stay away from sugary carbs like cookies and donuts - eating these foods makes them feel better. Unfortunately, this initial high is followed by an increase in insulin production, leaving you feeling tired and low. If you struggle with mental health issues, these low feelings can often be exaggerated, leaving you irritable, moody, and wanting nothing else but to be left alone.
Please note, the sugars found in whole foods like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains are absorbed more slowly, so they don’t cause the same mood swings. They are also more filling and nutritious because they contain vitamins, minerals, and the enzymes needed to help digest that food. [quote]
Essential fatty acids are an important component of neuronutrition to maintain mental health. Sixty percent of our brain is composed of fat, so consuming the right kinds of fat will keep it plump, healthy, and working optimally. The best sources of essential fatty acids are from deep water fatty fish like wild salmon, whole eggs, walnuts, avocados or avocado oil, macadamia nuts, and extra virgin olive oil.
When choosing carb foods, opt for complex carbohydrates. These contain slow-releasing sugars that can help improve mood and provide energy. Try eating less bread and pasta but more sweet potatoes, yams, and gluten-free oatmeal. Depending on your activity level, you may be able to eat these foods daily. But for most, once or twice a week is enough.
Ample protein is also important. Protein helps rebuild damaged cells and tissues in the body and brain, and contains the building blocks of life. Protein can also help improve mood and build muscle. Great sources of protein include eggs, grass-fed beef, wild salmon, pressure-cooked beans or lentils, and almonds.
In terms of nutrients, foods containing B-vitamins are the key for proper brain health. Thiamin (vitamin B1) has been associated with mood regulation. Folate and zinc can improve the mood of depressed people who consume them. Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) is vital to proper nervous system function and managing stress. So which foods contain these valuable B-vitamins? Dark leafy green like spinach, broccoli and kale, whole grains like brown rice, barley, and millet, eggs, red meat, poultry, fish, legumes, seeds and nuts, and fruits like citrus fruit, bananas, and avocados.
Whenever we talk of choosing the best and healthiest foods for ourselves, quality is extremely important. And it becomes even more important if you suffer from a mental health disorder.
One’s mental health and brain function can be easily aggravated by pesticides, antibiotics, heavy metals, and chemicals often found in conventional food. Fruits and vegetables sprayed with insecticides or herbicides are neurotoxic and often make symptoms worse. Similarly, processed foods contain additives and preservatives that our body does not know how to process and physically cannot digest. They can accumulate in the brain and cause more issues.
And of course there is the issue with meat. Animals raised humanely, able to roam freely and graze on grass as they were intended not only live much happier lives, but also produce better quality meats that contain more nutrients and essential fatty acids.
Avoid meats and poultry from animals confined indoors, fed GMO grains and corn, then treated with antibiotics. Choose grass-fed and grass-finished beef, pasture-raised poultry, and wild fish to ensure you receive optimal nutrition from these protein sources and minimize added toxins that can cause more problems.
Of course If you need individualized help with neuronutrition and deciding what foods are best for you and your mental health, please contact me.
In addition to proper neuronutrition, there are other natural modalities that you can consider. In fact, I highly recommend you give them a try!
Self-help techniques for mental health
There are some more natural ways to help oneself deal with a mental health disorder should one arise. In addition to proper nutrition, these self-help techniques include the following lifestyle changes:
Improve sleep quality and quantity. It is during the natural sleep cycle that the brain restores itself. It rids itself of stored toxins and damaged energy-producing cells. It’s also during sleep that free radicals are neutralized. Without enough restorative sleep, your brain gets bogged down. Thought processes and executive function suffer. You can have increased difficulty dealing with daily stressors, experience neruofatigue more readily, have foggy, unclear thoughts, and are more prone to irritability or moodiness. This makes seeking and accepting help even more difficult. TIP: To improve sleep quality, set regular sleep hours. Your brain likes routine, so go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Better still, schedule your bedtime around natural light and dark cycles. Sleep in a completely dark and cool environment. If you are prone to waking at every sound, try a white noise machine - it maintains a consistent and soothing hum that can disguise other night-time noises.
Meditate. Meditation is a natural way to calm the mind, free negative thoughts, and dislodge oneself from being stuck in a negative thought loop. I understand how truly challenging it can be to begin meditating or to be able to hold focus for any length of time, especially if your brain is not working optimally. But this is ultimately the challenge within meditation. Meditation can look and sound different to others, and there are many free videos and training tools online that teach you how to meditate if you’ve never done it before. Regardless of how, I simply urge you to give it a try.
Relax. Taking time out to practice various relaxation techniques is also important. Take frequent breaks throughout the day to stop, relax, and breathe. Schedule them into your day if you need a reminder. Let things roll off you, rather than roll over you. TIP: Looking for ways to relax? Read a fiction book, even if you are only capable of 1 or 2 pages (or paragraphs) at a time. Watch a silly show or a comedy. Take a hot bath with magnesium salts to break the stress cycle. Step outside and let the fresh air oxygenate your lungs. Engage in a hobby or activity you enjoy.
Exercise. Engaging in some sort of physical exercise or activity can help increase the amount of oxygen flowing to your brain. More oxygen to the brain means reduced inflammation and faster processing speed. Exercise has also been proven to reduce levels of anxiety and improve a depressed mood. TIP: Team sports tend to produce the greatest improvement in mental health. Not a team sport fan? Try cycling either indoors or out, engage in aerobic activity, or go to the gym. In addition, exercising for about 45 minutes three to five days per week can produce the greatest mental health boost.
Reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol is toxic to your brain if it’s been damaged or is imbalanced. Avoid alcohol if at all possible, or reduce consumption at the very least. It can destroy brain cells. And for someone suffering with poor mental health, this can spell disaster. TIP: Try drinking sparkling water with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar (from Modena). It provides a similar taste to that of red wine without the same negative effects.
Practicing these various self-help tips and eating right can help you recover more quickly from a mental health disorder or prevent one from taking hold in the first place. In fact, everyone can benefit from the tips and nutritional advice offered herein, as we can all benefit from having good mental health.
What is Good Mental Health?
Good mental health is not simply the absence of a diagnosable mental health problem. It can also help protect against the development of such problems in the first place.
Good mental health can be characterized by one’s ability to fulfil various key functions and activities in life, including the ability to:
Feel, express and manage a wide range of positive and negative emotions.
Form and maintain positive relationships with others.
Cope with and manage change and uncertainty.
Protecting your brain and engaging in healthy dietary and lifestyle choices is crucial to attain and maintain good mental health. So it’s important to eat well, sleep well, exercise regularly, and stay both socially and mentally active.
Don’t forget to wear a green ribbon throughout the month of October to let others know you care about your own mental health as well as theirs.
If you need help with a mental health issue and would like to know what natural modalities may be available to you, contact me. I’d be happy to help. You can also register for my newsletter to keep informed on how neuronutrition may be able to help you or a loved one.
As always, I welcome your feedback. Tell me what you think or how you’ve dealt with a mental health disorder by contacting me or commenting below. I’d love to hear from you!