Good nutrition helps protect your mental health and provides a balanced mood and feelings of well being. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world and research can link this partly to under nourished brains. Our brain consumes 420 calories per day and the right food makes it a happier, smarter, more resilient organ. We have the power to grow our brain if we change the way we think about food, exercise and life in general.
Here are some tips to keep your brain functioning at optimum level. By adhering to these simple recommendations you can improve mood, memory, concentration, sleep quality and resilience to stress:
Long gaps between meals and snacks will play havoc with blood sugar levels causing irritability, tiredness, nausea and low mood.
THE SOLUTION – Eat three meals per day as well as at least two healthy snacks. If you go longer than four hours expect to feel negative effects.
Breakfast is a no brainer
After a night’s sleep your brain has been running on empty for 7-8 hours. Not eating breakfast will quickly cause fatigue and brain fog. You mightn’t feel this after a while as it becomes the norm but introducing it makes you more alert and productive.
THE SOLUTION – Practice eating every morning until it becomes a habit. Even on the run, make sure to have protein (e.g. ham, egg, yoghurt) and some fruit or fresh juice. Don’t expect success with weight loss if you don’t kick start your metabolism every morning.
Protein is essential
Protein foods contain tryptophan, an amino acid shown to improve mood. Protein also helps to regulate energy levels and reduce fatigue as blood sugar peaks and troughs are avoided.
THE SOLUTION – Include protein foods at each meal i.e. meat, chicken, fish, eggs, beans, lentils.
Not drinking enough water has significant implications for mental health. Even mild dehydration can affect our feelings and cause fatigue, concentration problems, confusion and reduced mental functioning. We lose approx. 2.5 litres of water daily through the lungs, kidneys and skin. This must be replaced for a clear mind.
THE SOLUTION – Avoid sugary drinks which have no nutrients. Watch caffeine intake as excess causes anxiety, sleep problems and headaches. Try to stick to one coffee per day, or two or three weak teas as it has less caffeine and more antioxidants (prevent cell damage) Water is the key for hydration and flushing out toxins. Aim for 2 litres per day, herbal teas can be used for an infusion of flavour.
Omega 3 brain food
Omega 3 fatty acids are mood boosters and useful for brain development in children. Compared to 50 years ago, consumption of oily fish is down by almost 60% decreasing the consumption of essential fatty acids.
THE SOLUTION – Try to include oily fish like salmon, trout, mackerel or sardines twice a week in your diet. Cook stir-fries with olive or rapeseed oil (high in monounsaturates) and eat dark green vegetables regularly. If you don’t eat fish use an omega 3 supplement.
High fat, fried, refined, sugary foods give nothing to the brain and significantly increase the risk of depression. Calorie counting is pointless if the foods are nutritionally empty. Optimal mental health comes from a nutrient dense diet.
THE SOLUTION – Reduce meat and dairy, eat more fish, veg and whole grains. Choose 80% of shopping from the supermarket perimeter where produce is fresh and refrigerated. To prevent waste, buy frozen berries and vegetables.
Alcohol has a depressant effect on the brain and excess can result in a rapid deterioration in mood. The liver is put under pressure in the detoxification process. This process depletes brain boosting nutrients such as zinc and thiamin which can lead to irritability and/or aggression.
THE SOLUTION – If you are prone to feeling low it is wise to abstain from drinking alcohol. As a guide, try to drink only small amounts once per week.
Described as the most under-utilised anti-depressant, exercise is crucial for energy, clarity of mind and feeling motivated. This is due to the endorphin release, the feel good chemicals that help us to feel happy. People who suffer from depression or just dips in mood (especially for women due to hormone fluctuations) benefit from planned daily exercise as it gives structure and routine. Outdoor exercise boosts the mood.
THE SOLUTION – Try to make exercise a must for keeping you happy. Aim for 3 times per week and stick to that until it becomes a habit. By week 4 the feel good factor will motivate you to keep going. Find something that you like, fast walking works well and can be done anytime, anywhere. Use a pedometer or app to track distance. Feeling fitter and stronger boosts self-esteem and encourages a positive outlook on life.
Food is first and foremost brain fuel. If the brain suffers from lack of good fuel the cells become stressed and shrink. Aim for optimal mental health care. Once brain chemistry is balanced everything else will be easier as you can enjoy constant energy and vitality which is crucial for MOTIVATION.
For more about how Motivation can help you reach your weight loss goals contact your local clinic.