We’ve been taught that eating well helps us look and feel our physical best. What we weren’t always taught is that good nutrition also affects our mental health. A healthy, well-balanced diet can help us think clearly, feel more alert, and improve concentration and attention span. An inadequate diet can lead to fatigue, impaired decision-making, stress, and depression.
Stress & Depression
Sugar and processed foods can lead to inflammation throughout the body and brain, which will contribute to mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. When we’re feeling stressed or depressed we reach for processed foods in search of a quick pick-me-up.
According to the American Dietetic Association, people will either eat too much or too little when depressed and under stress. Eat too much and you find yourself sluggish and gaining weight. Eat too little and the resulting exhaustion makes this a hard habit to break. In both cases, poor diet during periods of stress and depression only makes matters worse.
To boost your mental health eat plenty of fruits and vegetables along with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon. Dark green leafy vegetables are brain protective. Nuts, seeds and legumes are also excellent brain foods.
Be Mindful About What You Eat
Paying attention to how you feel when you eat, and what you eat, is the first step to make sure you’re getting well-balanced meals and snacks.
Since a lot of us don’t pay close attention to our eating habits, nutritionists recommend keeping a food journal. Documenting what, where and when you eat is a great way to gain insight into your patterns.
If you find you overeat when stressed, it may be helpful to stop what you’re doing when the urge to eat arises, and to write down your feelings. By doing this, you may discover what’s really bothering you. If you undereat, it may help to schedule five or six smaller meals instead of three large ones.
Your brain and nervous system depend on nutrition to build new proteins, cells and tissues. In order to function effectively, your body requires a variety of carbohydrates, proteins and minerals. To get all the nutrients that improve mental functioning, you should eat meals and snacks that include a variety of foods, instead of eating the same meals each day.
Here are the top three foods to incorporate into a healthy mental diet:
Complex carbs such as brown rice and starchy vegetables can give you energy. Quinoa, beets, and sweet potatoes have more nutritional value and will keep you satisfied longer than the simple carbs found in sugar and candy.
Lean proteins will give you energy that allows your body to think and react quickly. Good sources of protein include chicken, meat, fish, eggs, soybeans, nuts and seeds.
Fatty acids are crucial for the proper function of your brain and nervous system. You can find them in fish, meat, eggs, nuts and flaxseeds.
Steer clear of processed snack foods
Develop a healthy shopping list and stick to it
Have a healthy snack when hunger strikes
Think about where and when you eat
Consume plenty of healthy fats