Optimum Mental Health Step 1 NOURISH

Optimum Mental Health Step 1: NOURISH

Your brain is a highly sensitive and hardworking organ which requires a dependable source of consistent energy and has specific requirements for vitamins, minerals, quality protein and healthy fats.

Although it is not completely possible to separate nourishing your body from your brain, today I am going to simplify some of the things that your brain requires to function optimally and positively impact mental health.

The Western Diet and Mental Health

It only takes a brief glance along any high street to see that it is populated with fast food outlets, and our supermarkets often are laid out in a way which makes it easy to make poorer choices. However, this type of diet, characterised by high sugar, high fat, low fibre, ultra-processed and chemically altered foods is (literally) a recipe for poor mental health.

Evidence is accumulating that an energy dense, nutrient poor western diet is driving suboptimal mental health and, although your body will try to make do with what it has, nutrition deficits can mean that its ability to function optimally is compromised.

We would not put the wrong fuel in our car and expect it to run properly (if at all!) and, unlike our bodies, we tend to switch our car every few years!

That being said, I try not to focus on avoiding lots of foods with my clients, rather we shift the perspective and concentrate on putting lots of goodness in (and we definitely shouldn’t try to be 100% perfect all of the time – where is the fun in that?!).

So, what do we need to put in?

Research suggests that a brain healthy diet should include the following FOUR foundations:

HYDRATION

The key first step is to ensure that you aim to drink 2 litres of water throughout the day. This is because your brain requires plenty of water to enable its continual supply of essential fuel and nutrients and, without ample hydration, your brain simply cannot work correctly and will begin to slow its function. Even slight dehydration will cause your brain to send out stress signals to your body, which can directly affect your mood, such as feeling anxious, tired, or depressed.

EAT A RAINBOW:

Eating a diverse array of colourful fruit and vegetables is a powerful way to supply your brain with what it needs to ensure it is well protected and able to function correctly. Aim for 7 portions a day – max 2 fruit, 5 vegetables to provide the following:

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins (e.g. Vitamin C, B6 B12 & Folate) and minerals(e.g. zinc, iron, magnesium) play various important roles in supporting your body’s stress response and the synthesis of neurotransmitters, such as feel-good serotonin and dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with focus and motivation.

It has been documented that people who suffer from depression and anxiety display shortfalls in their vitamin and mineral status.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants provide a ‘mopping up’ service throughout your body, helping it to neutralise inflammation and regulate your immune system. Invisible inflammation occurring within the brain can activate your immune system and put your body into ‘alert’ mode, creating anxiety, and research has shown that there is a degree of brain inflammation in those suffering with depression.

Antioxidants are abundant in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables such as berries, tomatoes, and peppers.

QUALITY PROTEINS

Unprocessed proteins such as fish, lean turkey and chicken, yoghurt, cheese, eggs, beans and tofu form an important part of an optimum mental health diet. Not only does protein optimise your brain function, but your body requires proteins to provide the building blocks of key neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. Shortfalls in quality protein intake can therefore compromise the brain’s ability to synthesise what you need, directly affecting mood. Ensure that you have a portion of protein at each meal.

HEALTHY FATS

Healthy fats, such as those found in oily fish like salmon and mackerel, nuts, seeds, avocados, and extra virgin olive oil, are hugely beneficial to your brain’s function. This is because they improve how well your neurotransmitters perform in your body, for instance supporting the release and uptake of serotonin. They can also exert an anti-inflammatory action, which is vital for keeping anxiety and depression at bay. We do not typically consume enough of these types of fats within a western diet. Aim to eat 3 portions of oily fish a week and a tablespoon of seeds daily, such as pumpkin, flax or chia seeds.

I hope that has helped highlight how it is possible to shift your body towards a path of better mental health by focusing on some powerful, yet simple, nourishment.

For more information and ideas download my free guide 8 Simple New Habits to Boost your Happiness

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