Eating well really is the keystone to a healthy body, so it’s no wonder the government are encouraging us all to get in shape before the winter. But a good diet is also critical for a healthy mind. Of course, mental health is complex and determined by a variety of factors, many of which are out of our control. But by making a few simple adjustments to the food you eat and your lifestyle, you can give your brain a much-needed boost. The knock-on effect will have a positive impact on your overall wellbeing, create more resilience and contribute to a happier state of mind.
Make like a Mediterranean
Researchers have determined a strong link between our diet and our brains and tell us that healthier diets protect against depression. In short, if you want to reduce your risk of cognitive impairment (which potentially includes dementia), sleep better and feel happier, step away from sugar-laden, highly processed foods. Felice Jacka, Professor of Nutritional Psychiatry and Director of the Food & Mood Centre at Deakin University says: “evidence from randomised controlled trials tells us that helping people with depression to improve the quality of their diets can have a substantial benefit to their mental health and functioning.”
Prof. Jacka recommends adopting a traditional Mediterranean diet – one which is high in wholegrains, vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts and olive oil – to stave off depression and provide your brain with the essential vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids that it craves.
What goes up, must come down
Emotional eating has a lot to answer for. When we’re tired and stressed, we’re often tempted by foods high in sugar and fat. It’s a survival mechanism. That ping of dopamine we get (the reward chemical in our brain) makes us feel happy and comforted. But it’s short-lived. A diet stuffed with high glycaemic index (GI) foods plays havoc with our blood sugar levels, causing a spike in insulin followed by a crash which in turn drives cortisol and stress. What’s more, the ‘bad ’ bacteria in our gut thrive on sugar, which creates an unpleasant gassy feeling and periods of sluggish bloating.
Overindulging in unhealthy foods will have a negative effect on the body, leading to weight gain, brain fog and low mood, which triggers the cycle all over again.
Push the right buttons
Try to identify the ‘triggers’ which cause you to reach for the ice-cream tub. Perhaps you’re tired from juggling work and children so reach for the wine at 6 pm every evening. Maybe you mindlessly snack on crisps and chocolate when scrolling through Instagram. Falling into these kinds of behavioural patterns is easy to do. After all, humans are creatures of habit. But by making a concerted effort to replace a bad habit with a good one (and stick with it), you create positive habit-forming neural pathways which will be easier to maintain in the long term. Try deep breathing exercises, gentle stretches or brisk walks in nature next time you find yourself anxious and craving processed junk food.
Delete fast-food delivery apps
Technology is a wonderful thing. But it’s also enabled us to satisfy unhealthy cravings with a swipe and a click. Try deleting any delivery apps linked to unhealthy fast-food restaurants you have on your phone. Instead, plan some healthy, easy to prepare meals. Prioritise cooking from scratch at least four times a week and keep notes about any changes in mood. Alternatively, let us do the cooking for you. Our meal programmes are carefully created to bring you the perfect balance of essential fats, protein and carbohydrates to feel energised, stronger and nutritionally supported each day.
Top brain loving foods
Ensure you eat a wide variety of the following foods to optimise your cognitive function.
Up to 90% of serotonin – the ‘happy hormone’ – is produced in the gut, so it’s important to incorporate plenty of pre- and pro-biotics into your diet. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, as well as fermented foods like kefir and sauerkraut, will keep your microbiome and your mind healthy.
Many fruits and vegetables, beans, pulses as well as wholemeal bread and pasta, contain complex carbohydrates which stabilise your mood and release sugar into the body slowly – crucial for avoiding the post-lunch slump and episodes of ‘hanger.’
Free-range organic eggs are a great source of protein and precious B-vitamins which contribute to healthy brain function.
Salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines have long-chain Omega-3 fats which are important for brain function and the communication of serotonin and dopamine. Seafood is also a great source of zinc which is involved in almost every aspect of neural activity. Research suggests that it reduces anger and depression in young women.
And finally, don’t forget to exercise. That ‘runner’s high’ you get from bursts of cardio does wonders for your mood and has been scientifically proven to improve your emotional health, energy and cognitive capabilities.
At Pure Package, our mission is to help people become healthier and happier through a nutritionally balanced diet. If you’re looking to improve your mental health and boost your mood, consider our Brain Food Package which has been carefully designed with neuroscientist Patrick Holford. It will provide your nervous system with all the essential vitamins, minerals and fats it needs to function at its best.