Nutrition and Mental Wellbeing

It's clear that we all need to be proactive in promoting and prioritising our own mental health. Whilst many of us are predisposed to certain risks of developing a mental health condition, there are some aspects of life we can control to promote wellbeing and reduce the overall risk - diet is one of them!
 
 Mental Health and Wellbeing
Having a high level of wellbeing means being happy, healthy and comfortable enough to enjoy life every day. Wellbeing encompasses many aspects of life, but good mental health is a key component. Without it, it can be hard or near impossible to experience wellbeing.
 
Trouble is, the prevalence of mental health conditions is undoubtedly on the rise. Here's some facts:

1 in 6 adults experience a common mental health problem
1 in 5 adults has considered taking their own life
Prescribed drugs are the most common form of treatment
Service and funding cuts mean less people are being diagnosed and supported 
 
Nutrition and Mental Wellbeing
 
Eating the right foods to nourish body and mind is just one thing we can do to prevent a mental health problem from developing. What's more, for those of us who already suffer with a condition, optimising nutritional status can help to manage symptoms and limit the impact it has on everyday life.
Greek physician Hippocrates once said “let food be they medicine!” and we think this was pretty wise given he was around thousands of years ago! It’s a motto us health-conscious souls live by. Food can indeed heal body and mind, given the chance! On the flip side, it also has the potential to harm both.
Adapting your diet to best support mental wellbeing is all about increasing foods which are natural and nutritious, and avoiding those that aren’t. Let’s take a look at some of the best examples of each.
Nutrients that Promote Mental Health
Our brain is an organ like any other and needs the right input to give
the best output! Here are just some nutrients that have been shown to have a positive effect on mental wellbeing:
  • Omega-3 – This is a group of essential fatty acids – essential meaning that we can’t make them ourselves and so must get them from our diet. Within this group is something called docosahexaeonic acid – DHA to you and me! DHA makes up a large portion of our brain and so getting enough from diet has been shown to promote brain health.
Find me in: Oily fish, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans and microalgae supplements (vegan-friendly Omega-3)
  • B-Vitamins – Vit B deficiency has been directly linked to increased prevalence of anxiety, depression and mood disorders. What’s more, folate deficiency in particular reduces the body’s response to antidepressants. Getting enough Vitamin B can help to reduce the risk of these conditions and improve tolerance of medications.
Find me in: Wholegrains, legumes, seeds and nuts, green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits.
  • Vitamin D – Helps to regulate brain hormones such as serotonin, which directly effect mood and so can influence mental health. This can be seen in a condition called ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ or SAD. Those suffering from SAD experience a low mood in winter months, thought to be caused by a lack of Vitamin D synthesis due to low levels of sunlight.
Find me in: Oily fish, eggs, dairy, mushrooms and fortified plant milks.
  • Antioxidants – These are compounds which work throughout the body to reduce levels of free radicals and oxidative damage. In other words, they’re the protectors of cells – and that includes brain cells. Studies have shown that increased antioxidant activity can reduce the risk of anxiety, depression and cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
Find me in: Eat the rainbow! Eating fruit and veg of all different colours is the best way to boost antioxidant levels.
Nutrients that can Worsen Mental Health
Food is a complex need for us humans, sometimes the nutrients we crave more are the ones which cause the most damage! More often than not, these are the foods that give us pleasure, increase our arousal or are even addictive.
Downside is, these effects are always temporary – and can leave us feeling worse than before we had our fix.
Here are some foods you should look to reduce in the pursuit of mental wellbeing:
  • Processed Food – More commonly known as junk food, tends to be full of sugar, harmful trans fats and heaps of artificial ingredients and additives. Not only are these all ingredients which aren’t needed for survival (!) but they also play havoc with our gut, blood sugar levels and hormones – negatively impacting mood and emotion.
  • Sugar – High blood sugar levels have been shown to have a direct correlation with increased anxiety. Replace the sugar with natural sugar replacements and the effect is reversed! Because it’s so energy-dense, consuming sugar often overloads the body with excess energy that worsens symptoms of anxiety and associated conditions.
  • Alcohol – If you’ve ever had a hangover then you’ll know just how bad alcohol can make you feel! This is often made light of but it is in fact your body warning you that you’ve done some damage, encouraging that “I’ll never drink again” mindset! Alcohol dehydrates us, increases anxiety levels and excess alcohol is directly linked to depression.
  • Caffeine – Hear us out! Those caffeinated drinks you think are getting your through each day may in fact be masking a deeper mental need for rest, sleep and recuperation. Just as with alcohol, research has shown caffeine to increase anxiety due to its effect on stimulating the senses into a state of hyperarousal. 
 
Optimising nutritional status to promote mental wellbeing doesn't have to mean sacrificing every foodie pleasure! Experiencing enjoyment from food is just as important as getting those mood-boosting nutrients, it’s all about balance. That’s why we created our range of all-natural sugar replacements, so that you can create food that is as good for you as it tastes! So, if you plan on indulging this Easter weekend, getting back on track next week is all you need to restore the balance!
 

Author Stephanie Masterman @Nutrinoggin

Dated: 17/04/2019


References

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-41125009


Noda, K., Nakayama, K., & Oku, T. (1994). Serum glucose and insulin levels and erythritol balance after oral administration of erythritol in healthy subjects. European Journal of clinical Nutrition. 48(4), 286-292.


World Health Organization. Mental Health Gap Action Programme: Scaling Up Care for Mental, Neurological, and Substance Use Disorders. WHO, 2008.


Fernandes de Abreu, DA, Eyles, D, Feron, F. Vitamin D, a neuroimmunomodulator: implications for neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases. Psychoneuroendocrinology 2009; 34 (suppl 1): S265–77.



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