We know that eating well helps your body feel good. But what about your mind? Here at Dehl, we are strong proponents of and believers in the importance of the mind-body connection. Did you know that our mental health directly influences our physical wellbeing and vice-versa? Today let’s explore the connection between good nutrition and good mental health.
How can food harm our mental health?
Have you ever noticed your response to a sugary snack? Chances are that you felt good immediately after (that’s the dopamine) but minutes later you are sluggish? Or what about when you have refined or processed carbs for breakfast? As opposed to a high protein meal or one that includes “good carbs,” you likely find that your energy and focus wanes (not to mention that you feel hungry much faster than you otherwise would). You might begin to notice patterns between what you eat and how you feel, including your mood and cognition. In fact, excessive consumption of sugar has been shown to increase the risk of depression, worsen anxiety, reduce focus and even reduce our productivity at work!
How can nutrition help our mental health?
On the flip side, there are many ways to enhance your mental health through food! Food in general is and should be healing and make us feel good- and not just in the short term. When you eat a balanced whole food diet, your mental health will flourish, along with better focus, concentration, and mood. Did you know that 95% of serotonin is produced in the small intestines? Foods that contain tryptophan, such as eggs, nuts, and tofu, can help with serotonin production too! In particular, the antioxidants in berries and green tea, omega 3 fatty acids found in fish and the B vitamins found in leafy greens are also mood enhancers.
And finally spices including turmeric cinnamon have been shown to be beneficial to good brain health!
Of course you can always fill in the gaps with supplements such as omega 3’s from fish or vegetarian sources like flax seed, chia or spirulina as well as B vitamins. Another class of plant based supplements are adaptogens including ashwagandha which can help support the body’s stress response and has been shown in studies to help stabilize mood.
There is also growing research into the gut-brain connection. Including the relationship between a healthy gut or gut microbiota or good bacteria and brain health. The probiotics found in yogurt, sauerkraut or kimchi may help promote a healthy gut which has been associated with reduced depression. And we can help the formation of probiotics by including prebiotic foods in our diet. Some examples of good prebiotic foods are plant based and include chicory fiber or inulin which are sometimes added to supplements or bars.
So remember to keep in mind your brain health when choosing your diet! Treats are fine but watch how they make you feel afterward. Choose foods that contribute to an overall sense of well-being. And to boost your mental wellness, try other approaches as well such as yoga or meditation.