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Happy National Nutrition Month!



How does nutrition and mental health work together? The foods we eat can have a major impact on our bodies, both physically and mentally. The nutrients {or lack thereof} determines how our mind and body operate. Food is our fuel! Have you noticed changes within yourself and find that you are now dealing with depression, anxiety, or any other type of mental concerns? You may find that making some changes to your diet can help control these issues. Mental nutrition is sometimes overlooked by the public and even by some health professionals, but it is an absolutely crucial component to consider. Medications and some forms of exercise are usually suggested as useful tips to target mental disorders. “Usually doctors go for therapy and drugs for more noticeable forms of depression and anxiety. They do so without more specifically looking at how natural substances can help without the need for drugs or other expensive options” (All Wellness Guide, 2010).


Nutrition and mental health studies have begun to focus on specific natural substances that can quickly impact mood, depression, and anxiety. Many of these substances can be reached by just adjusting our daily diets and the food we consume. However, most of us still have challenges obtaining proper, balanced substances within our diet {no matter how well-intended our diet is} due to consuming an abundance of processed foods, which have had their nutrients removed. An example of an important nutrient would be B complex vitamins. Mental nutrition and health experts have observed that B complex vitamins play a role in mental function and mood, as they help provide energy to the body by working in the process of breaking down food into energy more efficiently. B Complex vitamins also work in the brain to protect and preserve nerve cells and brain function. Increasing levels of B complex vitamins within one’s diet brought noticeable improvement in mood, memory, and mental energy for those studied over time.


The foods we consume affect our bodies in so many different ways. From how much energy we have, to the amount of body fat we have, to the way our skin looks. Nutrition even impacts our hair growth! And, of course, the food we eat can also heavily impact our brain and mental health. Here is a list of foods that promote good mental health and brain function:

Blueberries – These are rich in antioxidants and can reduce oxidative stress, ultimately improving learning capacity and motor skills.

Citrus Fruits - Lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits can help delay cognitive decline and decrease your risk of developing dementia by up to 23 percent.

Nuts – These are the best foods you can consume to help strengthen your brain power. Almonds {with their high vitamin E and monounsaturated fats} are great for preventing cognitive decline and memory loss. Walnuts are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which can boost brain cell communication and growth. Pistachios are high in vitamin B6, which increases the amount of oxygen in the blood and results in making the brain more active.

Fish - Omega-3 fatty acids can help slow cognitive decline and have also been shown to help ward off depression. Salmon, lake trout, anchovies and sardines are all examples of fish which are high in this type of fat.

Avocados - These are a good source of lutein, an ingredient related to improved cognition. The monounsaturated fats in avocados help to keep blood pressure levels in check, which is a key component to preventing Alzheimer’s.

Coffee - Coffee contains a high amount of brain-stimulating antioxidants. Studies have shown that regular coffee drinkers experience a decreased risk for dementia.

Greek yogurt - The probiotics found in Greek yogurt can prevent cognitive decline and age-related memory loss. The vitamins and minerals found in Greek yogurt are also good for relieving stress and enhancing brain energy.

Egg Yolks - The vitamins found in an egg yolk are crucial to supporting memory and increasing communication among brain cells.

Whole Grains - Our brains love complex carbohydrates, which can be found in whole grain products {such as oatmeal, barley and quinoa}. The soluble fiber found in whole grains helps to clear arteries and improve oxygen flow to the brain, which can then help offset dementia.

Beets - The natural nitrates in beets are great for improving blood flow to the brain and enriching mental performance.

Broccoli - Broccoli is great for both the mind and the body due to containing high levels of vitamin K and choline, two ingredients which have been shown to improve episodic memory performance.

Dark Chocolate - Flavonoids found in dark chocolate improve blood flow to the brain and can boost memory, attention span, reaction time, and problem-solving skills.

Green, Leafy Vegetables - Spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, collards, and Swiss chard have been shown by research to help keep dementia at bay and slow cognitive decline.

Rosemary - One of the main components of rosemary is carsonic acid, which helps to protect the brain from the chemicals linked to neurodegeneration, Alzheimer’s, and aging.


The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, say a healthy, balanced diet should include:

· Fruits and vegetables

· Whole grains

· Low-fat dairy

· Lean protein

· Limited amounts of sodium, saturated fat, and added sugar


A well-known diet which could be beneficial to your overall health and brain functioning would be the Mediterranean Diet. This way of eating focuses on consuming a variety of nutrient-rich foods such as fish, fruits and vegetables, beans, and whole grains. It also limits high-calorie, low-nutrient foods.


Paying attention to your food intake is just one way to address mental health concerns. Mental illness can have serious cases and can be considered life-threatening. Therefore, if you are struggling with mental health issues, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor can help you find the right type of treatment and support.



Resources

AllWellnessGuide. “How Do Nutrition and Mental Health Work Together For Your Benefit?” All Wellness Guide, Admin, 14 Oct. 2010, www.allwellnessguide.com/how-do-nutrition-and-mental-health-work-together-for-your-benefit/.

Elliott, Lee. “Healthy Diet, Healthy Brain: 15 Foods for Mental Health.” Resources To Recover, 26 Feb. 2019, www.rtor.org/2017/09/12/healthy-diet-healthy-brain/.

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