The association between food and mental health is arguably one of the most significant nutrition-related phenomenons, that perhaps still isn’t talked about enough. Everybody knows that a healthy diet contributes to a healthy body – but it also plays a vital role in maintaining optimal mental wellbeing (all the more reason to eat right…right?). We’re going to break down some of the how’s and why’s of eating well to keep that smile on your dial.
Happy hormones are made in your gut
Did you know your gut is kind of your body’s second brain? The nerve endings in the gut directly influence our thoughts and feelings. From hunger to mood swings…an imbalance of gut bacteria can negatively affect mental health. Eating the right foods keeps your gut happy – which in turn helps to keep you happy too!
Let’s talk inflammation
Inflammation of the gut can mean that your body is unable to fully absorb nutrients from food and also hinders the production of serotonin – our mood-regulating hormone. This means these nutrients are unable to make it to your brain – meaning it will not function at its full capacity. This may look like: anxiety, depression, brain fog, fatigue, and memory impairment. Refined sugars, saturated fats and trans fats all promote inflammation and may contribute to feelings like these or similar. So as delicious as the deep-fried foods and bakery treats are…you may find you feel happier and clearer if these are saved for a “sometimes” special treat. But wait, there’s more. Certain healthy foods help to control inflammation and thus fight against those yucky feelings (phew!).
The fuss about gut microbiota
Even less commonly spoken about, a healthy gut microbiome is pivotal for mental wellbeing. To put it plainly, there is a bi-directional communication between the gut and the brain. The lower our stress as a person, the lower our stress in our gut. Whereas, a healthier and happier gut, can equal a healthier and happier person (pretty cool, right?). Balanced gut bacteria can directly influence the way that we feel, by enhancing our resilience to events of high stress. Gut microbiotas use the fibre from certain foods we eat to produce vitamin complexes pivotal for our mental health. If these are malfunctioning or absent due to lack of nourishment, our mental wellbeing will ultimately suffer as well – which nobody wants!
So, what should I be eating?
Glad you asked! An all-round balanced diet consisting of whole, minimally processed foods is key for maintaining those happy feelings. Get those omega 3 fatty acids, iron, B vitamins and fibre into your life – stat.
Salmon absolutely boasts high amounts of omega 3 fatty acids, offering anti-inflammatory and antioxidant abilities.
Greek yoghurt will certainly make your belly smile, as it is packed with good bacterium (also known as probiotics), keeping our gut health intact.
Avocados are a winner (thank goodness), with their E and B vitamins, and monounsaturated fats providing antioxidant protection and healthy blood flow.
Blueberries might as well be renamed the antioxidant fruit, protecting the brain from damage, and reducing inflammation.
Other fruit and vegetables provide a vast range of essential vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre to support the gut environment.
Eggs are a huge stakeholder for brain function, with their B vitamins and choline supporting brain function, learning and memory.
Wholegrains offer a steady source of energy to the brain and are another great source of fibre for our bellies.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m certainly not complaining about that list of tasty options. This is not to say that you should never get that ice cream cone or indulge on a block of chocolate. These experiences are also important for our mental health (have you ever seen somebody with an ice cream cone that’s not smiling?). Keeping these treats as a “sometimes” ensures that they remain special and exciting experiences and allows us to focus on our microbiota-fuelling, inflammation-squashing, happy brain food the rest of the time! Sounds like a pretty great balance to me!