Foods to Support Mental Wellbeing
- Written by Alicia Drewnicki
- January 16, 2018
- 3 min read
Positive mental wellbeing gives us the resilience to cope with the stresses of everyday life. It also allows us to feel secure in ourselves and the world around us, freeing us to reach our full potential. However, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives. Some of us may be genetically more predisposed to mental health issues than others. This may be due to deficient levels of certain neurotransmitters. However, mental health issues can also arise due to a stressful event such as a divorce or bereavement. Fortunately, simple nutritional and lifestyle changes can play a major role in promoting optimal mental well-being.
There is a wealth of research that suggests that certain types of food contain essential components for optimal mental health.
Studies have shown that the more fish the population of a country eats, the lower their incidence of depression. This is due to an essential fatty acid in fish known as EPA. EPA is a powerful natural anti-depressant. Good sources are flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts. These can be easily incorporated into your diet by adding them to porridge, yoghurt and smoothies.
Adequate levels of the so-called “happy hormone” serotonin are essential for optimal mental well-being. However, an amino acid named tryptophan is required in order for the hormone to be synthesised in our bodies. Our bodies can’t produce tryptophan on their own, so we need to get it through our food. Indeed, studies have found that depriving people of foods that contain tryptophan for a short period of time actually causes depression. Bananas, turkey and tofu are good sources.
Recent evidence has also linked low selenium levels with a greater incidence of depression and anxiety. Until a few decades ago, most of our bread was made with American wheat which was grown in soil naturally rich in selenium. Since switching to British flour our selenium intake has declined. This is because British soil is low in selenium. Consequently, our intake is now only half what it should be. The easiest way to get your recommended daily intake of selenium is to eat two brazil nuts each day.
You may be happy to read that chocolate can give your mood a lift. In a recent study, 30 people were given 40g of dark chocolate, over 14 days. The results showed that chocolate eaters produced less stress hormones and their anxiety levels decreased. Choose a very dark chocolate – ideally 90%. You could also try cacao nibs.
Unfortunately, certain foods can also contribute to low mood and anxiety.
Caffeine is one of the key causes of anxiety in the workplace. A high intake can lead to stress and panic attacks. So, if you’re feeling anxious, replace coffee with calming herbal teas such as St. John’s Wort, chamomile, or liquorice.
Alcohol should also be treated with caution. A glass of chilled white wine at the end of the working day might seem like the perfect way to unwind, however, alcohol is a depressant. If you do wish to drink alcohol it is important not to exceed the recommended safe limits of 14 units for women and 21 units for men per week. Drink aware has a handy alcohol unit calculator at https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/understand-your-drinking/unit-calculator
3. Refined carbohydrates
Blood sugar fluctuations can significantly contribute to low mood. The carbohydrates we eat are broken down into simple sugars called glucose, and absorbed into the bloodstream. When we eat refined carbohydrates such as white flour, white pasta, sugar and biscuits, our blood glucose levels rise quickly. Our body then produces a hormone called insulin to quickly lower blood glucose levels. Low blood glucose levels result in low mood and irritability. To combat this, replace refined carbohydrates with complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread, oats, wholemeal pasta and brown rice. Try not to skip meals. If you’re not a breakfast person, try a smoothie instead for breakfast.
The power of food really is astonishing – make sure you choose wisely and pick feel-good foods to give you a natural happiness boost.
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