October 10th is World Mental Health Day and it’s a great reminder to take a proactive approach with your healthy habits to support your mental health.
Quality nutrition through a whole foods diet rich in vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats is one of the best ways to support your mental health and overall mood. Nutrition impacts mental health by reducing inflammation, improving gut health, and supporting the production of important chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.
Let’s begin with the role our macronutrients play: protein, carbs and fats.
Be sure to include a source of protein at every meal for energy and blood sugar balance. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. We need these building blocks for the hormones that can positively impact brain function and mental health.
Building Blocks for Brain Health
· Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is converted into 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), which is used to make serotonin and melatonin.
· Serotonin is essential for our mood and low levels have been associated with increased levels of anxiety and depression.
· Melatonin is a hormone involved in our sleep-wake cycle. We know that proper sleep also supports mood and mental health.
· Tyrosine is a nonessential amino acid that is necessary for brain function. It is involved in the production of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that improves mood and is linked to our reward center.
Focus on complex carbohydrates from vegetables, fruit, legumes/beans, and whole grains. These foods contain fiber that help provide sustained fuel and prevent blood sugar crashes. Refer to your Green Light Foods list for some examples of complex carbohydrates to include in your diet.
Healthy fats are one of the most important nutrients for your brain health. Check out your green light
food list for examples.
Essential Fats for Brain Health
· Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that must be obtained through the diet. They have been shown to positively impact mood and depression symptoms through their anti-inflammatory effects on the brain. Omega-3 fatty acids are also essential for the transmission of nerve impulses, which are important for proper brain function.
· Food sources: fatty fish (e.g., salmon, sardines, mackerel), walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and flax oil
· Eating regularly is essential for preventing low blood sugar crashes. Low blood sugar can impact your mood by increasing mood swings and irritability and it can also increase feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety.
· Eating nutritious, whole foods will have a positive impact on your mental health. These foods will keep your blood sugar levels balanced and help energize you throughout the day. Eating more processed, refined, and fast foods will be more likely to promote sluggish feelings and negatively impact your mental health.
· Be mindful of sugary drinks like sodas and coffee beverages and try to limit your consumption to an occasional treat. These drinks are very high in sugar and contain zero fiber, which means they will have a drastic impact on your blood sugar levels.
· Caffeine can negatively impact mood in certain individuals; it can increase feelings of anxiety stress, and depression. Caffeine also negatively impacts sleep patterns, which has negative consequences on overall mood.
· There is a strong link between alcohol and depression. Alcohol is sometimes used as a coping strategy for low mood, however, it has also been shown to trigger or worsen symptoms of depression in vulnerable individuals.