With the increasing incidence of mental health conditions, it’s good to reflect on supporting our mental health and that of our loved ones. The statistics are staggering, as depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability, with more than 300 million suffering with it worldwide. That is an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2017!
Good mental health for everyone takes some time and effort but is well worth it as studies have found significant improvements in quality of life in people who have made changes to their diet, supplements and mindfulness practices.
Since mental health symptoms are rooted in inflammation, blood sugar instability and poor gut health, they can be significantly improved with a few key changes. Below are the top contributors to negative symptoms as well as some key foods to include to improve your mental wellness.
Avoid the Following
Caffeine increases cortisol (stress hormone) and lactate, elevated levels of which are linked to anxiety[i]. It also depletes vitamins & minerals that are important for brain function and contributes to insomnia. Examples of caffeine-containing foods include cola, energy drinks, coffee, chocolate, and tea.
Refined Sugars and Starches
Eating refined sugars and starches creates spikes and crashes in blood sugar that is associated with depression. It also creates inflammation in the brain and body. Foods to avoid include cake, cookies, crackers, cereal, juice, white bread, white rice, and white potatoes.
Grab this guide that will give you the tips, tricks, and recipes you need to reduce your sugar intake.
Eating foods that you are sensitive to causes the production of antibodies, causing inflammation and damage to the GI tract. In particular, gluten-containing foods create inflammation in the body and contribute to neurologic manifestations, which can lead to anxiety and depression. It is important to work to identify and eliminate food sensitivities in order to heal your gut and improve symptoms.
Ensure Adequate Consumption of The Following
Healthy fats reduce inflammation to promote brain health, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improve memory. Fat is also required to provide energy, satisfy your appetite, and to help absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Healthy fats include foods such as fish, walnuts, flax, coconut oil, and avocado.
Unhealthy gut flora has a detrimental impact on brain health leading to anxiety and depression. Fermented foods such as miso, sauerkraut, and kefir introduce beneficial bacteria to the GI tract. This will help to rebalance the gut flora reducing inflammation and negative mental health symptoms.
When we don’t get enough protein, our brain can’t produce enough neurotransmitters to function adequately. Protein also helps to regulate blood sugar levels. Great protein sources include eggs and wild salmon, as these are also high in B vitamins, which reduce the severity of depression and anxiety.
In addition to the nutritional elements above, other lifestyle factors such as yoga and meditation are helpful for improving cognitive functioning. Studies suggest that this is from structural alterations that meditation produces in the brain.