In honor of World Mental Health Day, I thought it a good idea to touch on how we can have a positive effect over our own mental health through diet and nutrition. We’ve all at some point or another felt overwhelmed, moody, anxious, depressed or exhausted. Everyone responds to the demands of life in different ways. Some people are able to remain perky and happy no matter what comes their way while others wind up in a bad mood for a week when they get a parking ticket.
What is it that enables some people to be happy and pleasant no matter what while others may find the stresses of life to be completely debilitating? Whichever part of the spectrum you fall into, we all have a physiological stress tolerance and our potential for negative moods is largely in part directed by our diets.
We all have various neurotransmitters in our brains like serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, that regulate our moods, sleep, motivation, and energy levels. When our neurotransmitters are in perfect balance we sleep well, are able to deal with difficult events rationally, and can resist anxiety and depression. Over time things like stress, poor diet, and challenging life situations deplete them, making it harder for us to naturally cope with the demands of life. What I find incredibly empowering is that we actually have the ability to support our neurotransmitter health through what we eat and drink.
Your brain, which accounts for 2 percent of your body weight, uses roughly 20 percent of your daily calories. It’s clear that we must nourish our brains so that we can function at optimal levels and prevent ourselves from depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. Of course some issues require medical attention and this article is not intended to cure or recommend treatment for any existing conditions, it is merely a guide as to certain foods that promote mental health.
So, how do we nourish our brains? With water, protein, and fats, and by eliminating drug-like foods in our diets.
The brain is 85% water and has no way of storing it. Water helps our neurons fire more effectively reducing brain fog and enhancing creativity, and also helps us think more clearly in an emotional or stressful situation. Water flushes the toxins from our brains and enables them to function at their highest potential.
Our neurotransmitters are produced by amino acids that are derived from high protein foods. When we eat quality sources of protein we increase our levels of neurotransmitters that are responsible for making us feel happy and relaxed. Quality sources of protein are leafy greens, hemp seeds, beans, nuts, pasture raised hens’ eggs, salmon, and organic and pasture raised meats.
Fat comprises about two thirds of our brain and is required for it to grow and develop. Studies show that low levels of essential fatty acids (EFAs) in the brain are associated with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder disease and even schizophrenia. The reason these fats are called essential is because our body does not naturally produce them so we must get them from our foods. With our society’s obsession with non-fat, low calorie foods, we’ve begun to ingest lower and lower amounts of healthy fats. Eating the right fats, such as avocados, flax seeds, and nuts encourages our body to use fat as energy and helps regulate our metabolisms. Not only is it beneficial for our bodies to eat fat, but our brains thrive on it. Try incorporating olive oil, chia seeds, natural nut butters, and even seaweed sources into your diet.
4. Eliminate drug-like foods
Foods that are created in a lab like artificial flavors, coloring and sweeteners are not normally digested and processed like natural foods from the ground. Refined sugars and carbohydrates in processed foods and hormones and antibiotics ingested through the consumption of non-organic meat deplete the neurotransmitters that would normally keep us upbeat and energetic. This interference of the normal processes that keep us balanced, happy, and well rested is the base issue for a lot of mental and emotional illness.
By eliminating fake foods from our diets and incorporating more healthy fats and quality sources of protein, we can promote regeneration of the neurotransmitters that support our mental health and proactively enhance our own happiness and quality of life.