Eating for Sanity

Many of us know that what we eat has an impact on our physical health. However, more and more research is indicating that our choice of food also has a significant impact on our mood and overall mental wellness – including impact on specific mental conditions like depression and anxiety.

Coffee is a popular go to solution when feeling tired however the stimulating properties typically disturb sleep and can bring on anxiety or even depression symptoms.


Your Macros and Your Mood

We all learned about macro nutrients in school – you know – Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats. These days though, there is pressure to eliminate some of these macros from our diet in a bid to lose weight. While some people may see some short term results perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves why we were taught to eat all three macros AND the way each food type supports our mental health.


Carbohydrates

Our brains use around 20% of all the energy we consume. Without enough energy we feel tired and listless – unable to concentrate or think clearly and we also tend to be irritable. The energy our brain uses comes from blood glucose. Blood glucose comes from carbohydrates we eat.


If you have ever tried a keto diet before you will know how difficult it is to operate effectively without carbohydrates. Carbs get a poor reputation mainly because of the way refined carbohydrates mess with our insulin by pouring too much glucose into the blood stream too quickly.


The best carbs to choose are the ones that release energy slowly so that blood glucose levels stay steady through the day. Sources of good carbs include:

  • Whole grains – like oats

  • Pulses – consider lentils, beans

  • Starchy vegetables – potatoes

Carbs to avoid include: refined sugar, white bread, etc…

Proteins

Our brains are built from fatty acids and amino acids

Amino acids are basically proteins – and they help our bodies make neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in our brains that allow brain cells to talk to each other – helping us to concentrate, learn and remember. In addition, amino acids help us synthesise dopamine. Conditions like depression, addiction, Alzheimer’s Schizophrenia and ADHD are all associated with low dopamine levels so eating the right proteins can protect against these conditions.

So if we are missing proteins from our diets we put ourselves at risk of some serious diseases in addition to struggling with concentration and learning.

Good sources of protein include nuts, seeds, pulses, soy and dairy products; as well as animal products like chicken and red meats.

Plant based products have the advantage of usually coming along with fibre which is great for gut health – however it is important to vary the sources of plant based proteins as plant proteins need to be combined in order to provide all of the amino acids our bodies need.

Animal based proteins can provide a complete set of amino acids therefore there is no need to vary sources; however these proteins can often times to come along with saturated fats that we do not need.


Fats

Fat has a terrible reputation, however we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

All the cells in our bodies use fat to build the cell walls; and in our brains, fatty acids like Omega-3 and Omega-6 have been shown to support brain function and protect against the risk of developing various psychiatric disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and autism.

Our bodies can synthesise most of the fat our bodies need from the foods we eat however it is unable to synthesise Omega-6 or Omega-3 so we need to ensure we get enough of these fats from our diets.

Good sources of Omega-6 and Omega-3 include: nuts, seeds, oily fish, poultry, avocados, dairy products and eggs

Yes, I know, fats provide us with more calories per gram (9kcal per gram) than proteins or carbs (4kcal per gram) however if consumed sensibly there is no reason to exclude fats from our diets.


Micros help too

Micro nutrients are the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to function properly. They are referred to as micro nutrients because we only need to consume small amounts to gain the benefits they provide.

Specific micronutrients that impact on mental health include:

Deficiency symptoms Food sources

Iron Lethargy, exhaustion Beans, pulses, seeds, red meat,

poultry, fish, fortified cereals

Folate Negative moods / Depression Citrus fruits, green vegetables,

liver, beans

B vitamins Irritability, tiredness / fatigue Dairy, fish, poultry, red meat,

fortified cereals

Selenium Negative moods / Depression Wholemeal bread, brazil nuts,

seeds,, meat and fish


Watching the caffeine

Coffee is a popular go to solution when feeling tired however the stimulating properties typically disturb sleep and can bring on anxiety or even depression symptoms.

Also, without proper sleep, we end up synthesising too much cortisol, leading to insulin resistance, high blood sugar and weight gain.

If you are eating the foods described in the above sections you should find that you do not need to rely so much on caffeine to stay alert and full of energy.

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