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The importance of good nutrition for mental wellbeing

May 21st, 2020 by

You may have noticed that what you eat and drink can lift or lower your spirits. It affects how we feel, think and even how we behave.

Some foods are known to lift your mood, concentration and energy levels, while others can have the opposite effect.

For example, eating a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains can help reduce your risk of some mental health conditions.

Whereas a diet high in sugars and saturated fats are considered detrimental to cognitive function.

Can our diet influence mental health?

Nutrition is one of the most obvious yet under-recognised factors in the development of mental health.

To stay healthy, the brain requires varying quantities of complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, amino acids, and even water. 

Our brain is made up of mostly water (about 75%) and so drinking the recommended daily consumption helps with brain function and connectivity in a number of ways.

Water helps balance your mood and emotion, improves cognition and concentration, increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain and also helps reduce stress.

A fully hydrated brain will help the exchange of nutrients and toxins to become more efficient, thus ensuring better concentration and mental performance.

Our brain works hard around the clock, even when we are asleep, and requires a constant supply of fuel – primarily obtained from a balanced diet rich in nutrients.

Those of us who chronically under-eat or regularly skip meals can experience blood sugar decreases, causing our brain to become sluggish and foggy.

In the rush and pressure of modern life, busy schedules mean stressful times and often leave us eating in a frazzled state with little to no time to sit down to a healthy meal – or drink the recommended intake of water for a hydrated body and mind.  

Lack of time has a direct impact on our food choices and we are often found compromising a well-intended diet for quick-fix snacks and stimulants – leaving you zapped of energy both physically and mentally.

Anxiety and Depression in leadership is not uncommon

Corporate leaders and high flying executives working long hours in a competitive environment accept stress as a normal part of life.

For some, it’s not uncommon to self-medicate in order to cope with the stress brought on by running a fast-paced company and the pressures of leading at the top.

But behind closed doors, challenges and vulnerabilities are faced and often they believe the actions they are participating in are helping, not harming them.

There’s a high expectation to perform at peak levels and much rides on their success and behaviour. But how aware are high-powered individuals of their mental health?

Lifestyle factors such as demanding work roles, unhealthy diet, drugs and alcohol, and lack of sleep can all affect your mental health.

Ongoing stress can start to affect our mental health and turn into more serious problems – such as anxiety and Depression.

We have all almost certainly experienced anxiety at some point; it is perfectly normal. The right amount of anxiety can help us do our best in situations that involve performance.

However, the ugly side of anxiety can cause emotional distress and at worse develop anxiety disorders and depression – impacting on our lives as well as our physical and mental health.

Healthy Diet, Healthy Mind

Eating is one of life’s pleasures. So why are so many of us rushing through it?

Our diet and the foods we eat can make a difference when it comes to brain health and function.

Many of us rush through meals or even skip them. You may think it’s not a problem to skip a critical meal, eating fewer calories -what’s the harm-right?

Missing a meal, particularly breakfast, or not eating for long spells can lead to blood sugar decreases, which cause interruption in your ability to think straight – this leaves you feeling irritable, confused and fatigued. In turn, your body starts to increase the production of Cortisol, leaving you even more stressed.

The same can be said about skimping on carbohydrate foods. The term “carbs” may have become a taboo word, and its reputation put into question, but our bodies need carbs to produce serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical that lifts your moods and has a calming effect.

Your brain needs glucose for energy, and this is obtained from carbs when broken down.

Avoiding carbohydrates can actually have negative effects on your brain, and a diet low in carbs can be detrimental to your memory and your ability to learn and think.

Think ‘good’ complex carbs and not ‘bad’ simple carbs.  

The good: vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains

The bad: cookies, cakes, candy bars and all high sugar options are very easy to breakdown but cause a spike in blood sugar resulting in a crash and low mood.

In order to remain healthy, the brain needs other nutrients such as omega-3s, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Specific fats are a key component in the structure of cell membranes and play an important role in neuron development and function.

For example, omega-3 fatty acids help build and regenerate brain cells, and antioxidants minimise cellular stress and inflammation, which are associated with brain ageing and neurodegenerative disorders.  

Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are vital for normal brain function and development throughout all stages of life. Found in fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel) they improve memory and mood. They can also be found in soybeans, flaxseed, nuts and other seeds. Low levels of omega-3s may accelerate brain ageing and brain function deficits.

For those who fall short of their recommended fish intake, fish oil supplements may be a convenient alternative.

Antioxidants are particularly important for brain health since the brain is highly susceptible to oxidative stress, a condition of imbalance between the production of free radicals and antioxidants, that is thought to contribute to age-related illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Antioxidants are found in most fruit and vegetables but in general, the brighter the colour, the higher level of antioxidants. Berries – whether strawberries blackberries, blueberries are the ideal antioxidant fix and can help improve concentration and memory.

In particular, blueberries are considered to contain the highest antioxidant levels of all common fruits and vegetables. Make sure to have a place on your plate for brightly coloured fruits and vegetables with every meal.

Be mindful

Catch up on those zzz’s. Sleep and health are strongly related; getting a good night’s sleep helps to repair and restore body and mind whereas poor sleep can have a negative effect on our health.

Sleep is vital for maintaining good physical and mental health. Simple lifestyle adjustments can benefit the quality of our sleep. A lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep can affect our energy, mood and concentration levels.

Taking time out to relax and let go of any worries or concerns is vital for mental wellbeing.

Relaxing gives your body and mind the time to recover from everyday stresses. Stop, breath and take time out for yourself to de-stress and rejuvenate, book yourself that well-deserved getaway without hesitation, take up a yoga class and learn to breathe again.

Breathing exercises can genuinely help, its one of the best ways to reduce tension and lower stress. A perfect tranquil environment will benefit your mind, body and soul.

Sleep well, eat well, exercise and make time for you – Healthy life, Healthy mind!

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