Everyone uses the comparison between your body and your car when they talk about nutrition–you must fuel both with the proper fuel and take care of them. Unlike your car, though, you can never “turn off” your brain. So why not fuel it with the best fuel you can? Here are a few tips on eating right for your mental health.
A Background on Nutritional Psychiatry
In one 2014 study, the first of its kind, researchers found that people who ate the Mediterranean diet (a diet high in fruits and vegetables, fish, and lean meats) had fewer mental health diagnoses than those who ate a more “Western” diet. Scientists replicated the link between mental health and nutrition in 2017 when researchers surveyed 120 children and found that kids who had diets higher in fast food, sodas, and sugar, had ADHD in higher rates than children with healthier diets. As a growing body of scientific literature, nutritional psychiatry hasn’t yet uncovered the best diet to have or foods to avoid. Even still, there are a few general guidelines you can follow to make sure you’re getting the most out of your diet.
Even before the burgeoning field of nutritional psychiatry, there have been studies linking the Omega-3s in fish to increased brain function. Eating at least two five-ounce servings of fish a week, with one of those being a fatty fish, is critical to ensuring your brain can function properly. If you’re struggling to get the amount of fish you need, try eating a can of tuna once a week, and having sardines, salmon, mackerel, or similarly fatty fish once a week. Having a tuna sandwich for lunch one day, and salmon for dinner another day could improve your mental health.
Who knew? Whole grains are high in tryptophan, a chemical that your body needs to produce serotonin and melatonin. While many carbs stimulate melatonin production, whole grains act as mood stabilizers, keeping you from being “hangry” later in the day. If you’re having trouble implementing whole grains into your diet, try eating quinoa and barley instead of rice, buying whole grain bread for your sandwiches and toast, and looking for whole-grain cereals.
Fruits and Veggies
While these are indeed important for your physical well-being, did you know getting in your daily servings of fruits and veggies can be useful for your brain as well? A study found that young people, ages 18-25, experienced better mental health after eating a handful of different fruits and veggies. Some of the most popular “good mood foods” included dark leafy greens like spinach, citrus fruits, berries, kiwifruit, and cucumbers. Why did these produce items make the cut? Researchers suspect because of their nutritional content.
Vitamins B and D are essential to mental health–and you can find many of these vitamins in some of the fruits and veggies above. Dark, leafy greens and citrus fruits especially are high in Vitamin B. You can find Vitamin D in leafy greens, as well. Adding a salad, a piece of fruit, or a homemade smoothie to your diet in place of a fried or fatty meal may increase your mood and help you deal with any mental health conditions.
While fatty meals on their own aren’t ideal, finding healthy fats to mix into your diet can improve your brain’s health. Eating foods like olive oils, avocados, and fish in moderation can help control any mental health conditions and keep your mind in tip-top shape! Healthy fats work to provide your brain with the fuel it needs in the form of antioxidants.
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