Updated: Aug 18, 2022
You may not know this about me yet, but I consider myself quite the lover of food. I find great joy in cooking and sharing a delicious meal with my people, and over the years discovered how nutrition may be a powerful tool to nourish our mind, body & spirit. I wanted to share some of the things I've learned and some simple grocery staples that are delicious and packed with "brain food".
A favorite snack when I want a sweet & salty fix - raw walnuts and my favorite Hu Simple Dark Chocolate.
How could our nutrition affect our mental health?
My "passion project" with nutrition grew as I became a wife & mother. As a bereaved mother, I noticed trends and direct correlations in how my food affected seasons where I was experiencing heightened anxiety & grief alongside a decrease in the healthy function of my body. With the support of my medical team, I discovered ways to incorporate & increase foods that helped support my health and decrease ones that impacted it negatively.
Research has proven our nutrition can be a powerful tool for depression and anxiety. Increased studies and science have shown:
• Vitamins in our body help the function of enzymes that enable reactions and how our body makes & produces serotonin, which plays an essential role in our mental health & emotional regulation.
• Increased refined sugar, high caffeine levels, and high processed food intake have been linked to the development of anxiety and depression. These may also significantly reduce the brain's ability to repair & develop new connections following trauma.
• Newer-focused research suggests our gut plays an essential role in mental health, and the correlation between our gut health and nutrition goes hand in hand.
You are what you eat?
Maybe not, but we do feel what we eat. Research suggests that certain foods affect our MOOD—for better or worse. Most people understand the link between what they eat and their physical health, but the connection between what you eat and your mood, energy, sleep, and thinking well is much more immediate.
Here are a few key ways nutrition changes may be affecting your mood:
• You don't eat regularly. Food is fuel; skip a meal, and you'll likely feel tired and irritable. When you go too long without eating, your blood sugar drops, and mood swings ensue. Aim for a well-balanced meal or snack that is primarily whole, unprocessed foods every few hours.
• Fuel Well. Carbohydrates have long gotten a bad rap, but your body utilizes them to produce serotonin—a feel-good brain chemical that elevates mood and has a calming effect. Choosing complex carbs—high in fiber and packed with whole grains—positively impacts mood, whereas simple carbs (think processed candy, cake, cookies, and other refined sugar choices) deplete your mood.
• Omega-3s—found in fatty fish like salmon- improve memory and mood. Research suggests low omega-3 levels are associated with depression, pessimism, and impulsivity. Most experts recommend at least two servings of fatty fish per week; other sources include ground flaxseeds and walnuts.
• Low Nutrient Levels. Research suggests that getting too little iron can spell depression, fatigue, and inattention. Iron-rich foods include red meat, egg yolks, dried fruit, beans, and artichokes. Scientists have also found that insufficient Thiamine can cause "introversion, inactivity, fatigue, decreased self-confidence, and a poorer mood," Thiamine may be found in whole grains, pork, yeast, cauliflower, and eggs. Equally crucial is folic acid, which helps fend off depression. Green veggies, oranges, grapefruit, nuts, sprouts, and whole-wheat bread are good sources.
• High Saturated Fats—are linked to both depression and dementia. What's more, a large, high-fat meal requires a lot of work for our bodies to digest fat; since there's more work going on, you're more likely to experience fatigue, inflammation & digestion imbalance.
• Overcaffeinated. Like many of us, I love a hot cup of coffee, but I also know moderation is key. In moderate amounts, caffeine can enhance physical and mental performance, but too much can spur anxiety, nervousness, and mood swings. Stick to one or two cups daily to dodge the adverse effects. Chamomile & Green Tea—antioxidant powerhouses—also fight depression. It contains theanine, an amino acid that helps combat stress.
Eat the Chocolate!
You heard me -- dark chocolate has long been studied and suggested to reduce stress and anxiety. While this may not be a given for everyone, we do know it is rich in magnesium, mood-enhancing transmitters like serotonin, and nutrients that have been shown to reduce inflammation. Overall, focusing on nutrient-dense food choices that are rich in leafy greens, healthy fats, and fruits & vegetables may beneficial in supporting & managing anxiety symptoms.
Our human bodies were fearfully and wonderfully made and uniquely designed. I've learned so much over the years and continue to add to my "wellness toolkit" of knowledge, I hope these resources are a support to you and offer some great tips to put into place!
Please note: You should always first take to prayer and consult with your medical team before making any changes to your health that may impact medications or any nutritional restrictions you may have.