You've probably heard the expression, "You are what you eat," but what exactly does that mean? Put simply, food is fuel, and the kinds of foods and drinks you consume determine the types of nutrients in your system and impact how well your mind and body are able to function. a whole foods diet where a client cooks from scratch is one of the best ways to improve mental health. A diet filled with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and unprocessed meats while avoiding sugar, excessive caffeine, alcohol, drugs, nicotine and processed foods goes a long way towards creating the template of good mental health.
Avoid: Sugary drinks and excessive amounts of caffeine are empty calories and damage tooth enamel. Caffeine should also be avoided in excess, as it can trigger panic attacks in people who have anxiety disorders.
Try to: Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day (about 2 liters) to prevent dehydration. Studies show that even mild dehydration can cause fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and mood changes. In addition to physical effects like thirst, decreased or dark urine, dry skin, headache, dizziness and/or constipation. Limit caffeine intake if you have an anxiety disorder. If you feel like you need some caffeine, try tea. Tea has lower amounts of caffeine than coffee and has lots of antioxidants - chemicals found in plants that protect body tissues and prevent cell damage.
Avoid: Skipping breakfast. Breakfast is needed to fuel your body (including your brain) after going without food during sleep and also jump starts your metabolism for the day. Skipping meals leads to fatigue and feelings of "brain fog."
Try to: Incorporate a healthy breakfast into your routine. If you're tight on time in the mornings, grab a whole grain granola bar, yogurt and a piece of fruit to get you off to a good start.
LUNCH AND DINNER
Avoid: High-fat dairy, and fried, refined and sugary foods, which have little nutritional value. In addition to contributing to weight gain, and conditions like diabetes, research shows that a diet that consists primarily of these kinds of foods significantly increased risk of depression.
Try to: Eat a diet that relies on fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish and unsaturated fats (like olive oil). People who follow this kind of diet are up to 30% less likely to develop depression than people who eat lots of meat and daily products.
5 FOODS TO IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH
When most people think of boosting their brain power, they think of learning something new or engaging in thought provoking debate. As it turns out, one of the best ways to improve your mental health is through your gut. Like your brain, the gut has its own nervous system, which sends information to the brain via the vagus nerve. This helps explain why you might feel queasy when you're nervous or stressed. Just as the brain impacts the gut, what we put in our gut can impact the functioning of the brain. Here are five foods that keep the mind working at its best:
The Standard American Diet is sorely deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and elcosapentanoic acid (EPA), and high in trans fats and saturated fats which have been shown to negatively affect the brain. Since our brains are made up largely of fat and our bodies cannot manufacture essential fatty acids, we have to rely on a diet rich in omega-3's to meet out daily needs. In studies, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild cold water fish (e.g., salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel), seaweed, chicken fed on flaxseed and walnuts, have been known to reduce symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other mental disorders. This is likely because of the effect omega-3's have on the production of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals responsible for our moods), including dopamine and serotonin. By supporting the synapses in the brain, omega-3's also boost learning and memory.
2. Whole Grains
The primary source of energy for the brain is glucose, which comes from carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates exacerbate low mood by creating spikes in blood sugar and have been shown to have effects on the brain similar to drugs of abuse. By contrast, complex carbs release glucose slowly, helping us feel full longer and providing a steady source of fuel for the brain and body. Healthy sources of complex carbs include whole wheat products, bulgur, oats, wild rice, barley, beans, and soy.
The foods we eat are broken down into substances that are used to make neurotransmitters and other chemicals that allow different parts of the nervous system to communicate effectively with each other and the rest of the body. Next to carbohydrates, protein is the most abundant substance in the body. The amino acid tryptophan, a building block of protein, influences mood by producing the neurotransmitter serotonin. Sometimes called nature's Prozac, serotonin is associated with depression. Lean protein sources, including fish, turkey, chicken, eggs and beans, help keep serotonin levels balanced. Even more important are complex carbohydrates, which actually facilitate the entry of tryptophan into the brain, reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety and improving overall cognitive functioning.
4. Leafy Greens
Popeye was on to something with a diet high in spinach. Leafy greens such as spinach, turnip, mustard greens, and broccoli are high in folic acid, as are beets and lentils. Deficiencies in folate as well as other B vitamins have been linked with higher rates of depression, fatigue, and insomnia. Broccoli also contains selenium, a trace mineral that plays an important role in our immune system functioning, reproduction, and thyroid hormone metabolism. Some studies suggest that low levels of selenium contribute to depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Other sources of selenium include chicken, onions, seafood, walnuts, brazil nuts, and whole grain products.
5. Yogurt with Active Cultures
Fermented foods, such as yogurt with active cultures, kefir, kimchi, tempeh, and certain pickled vegetables, contain probiotics (healthy bacteria) which have been shown in studies to reduce anxiety and stress hormones and effect the neurotransmitter GABA. By contrast, eating too many processed foods may compromise the delicate balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria in the gut.
Our modern diet is significantly different from that of our ancestors. We can blame busy lifestyles, food manufacturing, and the affordability of processed foods, but most of us can make changes to counteract these influences; for example, increasing our intake of fruits and vegetables, limiting processed foods that come from bags and boxes, and cooking meals from scratch. Sadly, the genetic and environmental influences passed down by our ancestors, though far from perfect, were likely better than the ones we're passing on to future generations. An emerging body of research showing that the way we eat today not only affects our own health but also that of our children and grandchildren.
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