Eating Well for Mental Health

Eating Well for Mental Health
Ever since we were little, we’ve been hearing all about how eating right keeps us in top shape physically. But what often gets left out of the conversation is how much our diet impacts our mental game. Chowing down on a balanced and nutritious diet isn’t just about keeping our bodies fit; it’s a big deal for our minds too. It helps us think on our feet and stay sharp, not to mention boosting our focus and attention span.
On the flip side, if our eating habits are out of whack, it’s not just our bodies that feel the slump. Our decision-making skills might take a hit, and our reaction times could get a tad slower. And here’s the kicker a not-so-great diet doesn’t just make us feel off; it can actually crank up our stress levels and even nudge us toward feeling down in the dumps.
Photo fresh salmon fillet with basil on the white background.
One of the biggest health impairments is society’s reliance on processed foods. These foods are high in flours and sugar and train the brain to crave more of them, rather than nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables.
A lot of the processed foods we eat are highly addictive and stimulate the dopamine centers in our brain, which are associated with pleasure and reward. In order to stop craving unhealthy foods, you’ve got to stop eating those foods. You actually start to change the physiology in the brain when you pull added sugars and refined carbohydrates from your diet.

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Stress and Depression

The Food Connection You know how sugar and all those processed munchies can cause inflammation in our bodies and brains? Well, turns out, that kind of stuff can mess with our mood too, even leading to anxiety and the blues. When we’re feeling stressed or a bit down, it’s super tempting to grab those quick, processed snacks for a fast mood lift. In the hustle and bustle of tough times, we might just gulp down a coffee instead of a full breakfast, or swap out fresh fruits and veggies for some greasy fast food. And on those really down days, a tub of ice cream might become the whole dinner, or we might just skip eating altogether.
According to the American Dietetic Association, people tend to either eat too much or too little when depressed or under stress. Eat too much and you find yourself dealing with sluggishness and weight gain. Eat too little and the resulting exhaustion makes this a hard habit to break. In either case, poor diet during periods of stress and depression only makes matters worse. This cycle is a vicious one, but it can be overcome.
To give your mental health a boost, try focusing on filling your plate with lots of fruits and veggies, plus foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon. Those dark green leafy veggies? They’re like a shield for your brain. And don’t forget about nuts, seeds, and legumes like beans and lentils these are some top-notch brain foods.

A Healthy Gut

Researchers continue to prove the old adage that you are what you eat, most recently by exploring the strong connection between our intestines and brain. Our guts and brain are physically linked via the vagus nerve, and the two are able to send messages to one another. While the gut is able to influence emotional behavior in the brain, the brain can also alter the type of bacteria living in the gut.
According to the American Psychological Association, gut bacteria produce an array of neurochemicals that the brain uses for the regulation of physiological and mental processes, including mood. It’s believed 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, a mood stabilizer, is produced by gut bacteria. Stress is thought to suppress beneficial gut bacteria.

Mindful Eating

Tuning into your body’s signals and being mindful of what’s on your plate is key to balanced eating. Since a lot of us just eat without much thought, nutrition experts often suggest jotting down your meals in a food diary. Tracking the what, where, and when of your eating habits can really open your eyes to your own patterns.
Ever notice how you might reach for a snack when you’re stressed? Next time that happens, try hitting pause. Jot down what’s going through your mind instead. This little exercise can be a game-changer in understanding what’s actually eating at you (pun intended!). On the other hand, if you’re someone who tends to skip meals, how about trying five or six smaller meals throughout the day instead of three big ones?
Sometimes stress and feeling down can get pretty overwhelming, and it can mess with our eating habits. For some folks, this can spiral into eating disorders. If you find yourself in a spot where you’re either overeating or hardly eating at all, and it’s starting to worry you, it might be time to reach out for professional help. Remember, asking for help is a strength, not a weakness. Especially when things feel too heavy to handle solo.
Brain Food

Brain Food

Your brain and nervous system depend on nutrition to build new proteins, cells and tissues. In order to function effectively, your body requires a variety of carbohydrates, proteins and minerals. To get all the nutrients that improve mental functioning, nutritionists suggest eating meals and snacks that include a variety of foods, instead of eating the same meals each day.
Here are the top three foods to incorporate into a healthy mental diet:
  1. Complex Carbohydrates: These are your brain’s go-to source for energy. We’re talking about the good stuff like brown rice and hearty starchy veggies. Foods like quinoa, millet, beets, and sweet potatoes pack a nutritional punch and keep you feeling full and focused way longer than the quick rush you get from simple carbs found in sugary snacks.
  2. Lean Proteins: Think of these as your brain’s power-up button. They provide the energy your brain needs to think and react at lightning speed. Load up on chicken, beef, fish, eggs, soybeans, nuts, and seeds – these are all dynamite sources of quality protein.
  3. Fatty Acids: These guys are like the VIPs of brain and nervous system health. They’re super important for keeping everything running smoothly up there. You’ll find them in fish, meat, eggs, nuts, and flaxseeds.
Incorporating these foods into your diet isn’t just about eating healthy; it’s about giving your brain the top-tier nutrients it needs to perform at its best. So next time you’re meal planning, think about feeding not just your body, but your brain too!

Healthy Eating Tips

  • Steer clear of processed snack foods, such as potato chips, which can impair your ability to concentrate. Pass up sugar-filled snacks, such as candy and soft drinks, which lead to ups and downs in energy levels.
  • Consume plenty of healthy fats, such as olive oil, coconut oil and avocado. This will support your brain function.
  • Have a healthy snack when hunger strikes, such as fruit, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, baked sweet potatoes or edamame. This will give you more energy than packaged products.
  • Develop a healthy shopping list and stick to it.
  • Don’t shop while hungry, since you’ll be more apt to make unhealthy impulse purchases.
  • Think about where and when you eat. Don’t eat in front of the television, which can be distracting and cause you to overeat. Instead, find a place to sit, relax and really notice what you’re eating. Chew slowly. Savor the taste and texture.

Just a heads up, it’s all about finding that sweet spot. A little treat here and there is cool, but sticking to these brain-boosting foods most of the time can seriously level up your mental game.

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