Let’s talk about mental health. While the start of 2021 brings new hope, the New Year is not without its challenges. New emerging societal pressures like social media, increasing work hours, and financial stressors, to name a few, have led to a spike in mental health related conditions in recent years.
On a more positive note, nutrition can play a significant role in mental health status. There’s an overwhelming amount of nutrition information out there and it can be hard to navigate. Even as a registered dietitian myself, I find it daunting. I took some time to digest and breakdown some top tips to optimize your mental wellbeing through nutrition. Here are a few simple nutrients you can focus on that can aid in mental wellbeing.
In order to carry out its most basic functions, your brain needs glucose to function. Glucose is derived from carbohydrates. Focus on choosing complex carbohydrates specifically, as complex carbohydrates, will release glucose more slowly providing a slow constant source of energy compared to simple sugars. Carbohydrates also play a crucial role in helping your brain to stimulate the “feel-good neurotransmitter” serotonin. Great sources of complex carbohydrates include beans, whole grains and fruits and vegetables.
Omega 3s & Omega 6s
A large part of our brain is made up of fat. Omega 3s and 6s are essential fatty acids required in the diet that help make up brain matter. Typically most Western diets are already high in Omega 6s so we want to focus on consuming Omega 3s. We get Omega 3s from fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and trout, as well as plant based sources like walnuts, ground flax or hemp seeds. If you are reaching for fatty fish to meet your Omega 3s aim to get two servings/week. Plant based sources of Omega 3s are found in much lower amounts so if you are focusing on getting your Omega 3s from plant sources aim for a serving of Omega 3 rich plant foods daily and consider talking to your health care provider if a supplement is appropriate for you.
Stay hydrated. Dehydration can contribute to mental health related symptoms like loss of concentration and irritability. Other than drinking plain water, other ways you can help to meet your hydration needs are drinking smoothies, teas, soups or consuming fruits and vegetables (rich sources of water).
Probiotic use to improve certain mental health conditions
Lots of new and exciting research is coming out about the relationship between our gut microbiota and mental health. There are some exciting new probiotic supplements on the markets that have some evidence behind them to support various mental health conditions in adjunct to other medical therapies. Please keep in mind that a supplement is meant for just that, to supplement! If your diet is not balanced, taking a supplement alone will likely not result in any major improvements in symptoms.
Remember, nutrition is just one tool that may help alleviate some mental health symptoms. Hyper-focussing on “healthy foods” can create a negative relationship with food so above all; focus on eating foods that are best for you and your body. If you are suffering from any mental health related concerns please reach out to your health care provider.
Kelsey Moore is a Burnaby-based registered dietician and the nutrition operations manager at Choices Markets. Anyone interested in learning more about the role food plays with mood or for general nutrition information visit www.choicesmarkets.com to connect with the nutrition team or email email@example.com with any questions.