There’s no denying that eating well is the keystone to a healthy body, but a good diet is also important for a healthy mind and mood. Of course, mental health is complex and determined by a tonne of different factors, many of which are (unfortunately) out of our control. But by making a few simple adjustments to the food you eat and your lifestyle, you can give your brain a much-needed boost. The knock-on effect will have a positive impact on your overall wellbeing, create more resilience and contribute to a happier state of mind.
Make like a Mediterranean
Researchers have determined a strong link between our diet and our brains, and tell us that healthier diets may be able to help protect against depression. In short, if you want to reduce your risk of cognitive impairment (which potentially includes dementia), sleep better and feel happier, then step away from sugar-heavy, highly processed foods. Felice Jacka, Professor of Nutritional Psychiatry and Director of the Food & Mood Centre at Deakin University says: “evidence from randomised controlled trials tells us that helping people with depression to improve the quality of their diets can have a substantial benefit to their mental health and functioning.”
Prof. Jacka recommends adopting a traditional Mediterranean diet – one which is high in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, omega-3 laden fish, nuts and olive oil – to help stave off depression and provide your brain with the necessary vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids that it deserves.
What goes up, must come down
Emotional eating has a lot to answer for. When we’re tired and stressed, we’re often tempted by foods high in sugar and fat. It’s not our fault, it’s a survival mechanism. That ping of dopamine we get (the reward chemical in our brain) makes us feel happy and comforted, but it’s short-lived. A diet filled with high glycaemic index (GI) foods plays havoc with our blood sugar levels, causing a spike in insulin followed by a crash which in turn drives cortisol and stress. What’s more, the ‘bad ’ bacteria in our gut thrive on sugar, which creates an unpleasant gassy feeling and periods of sluggish bloating.
Overindulging on unhealthy foods will have a negative effect on the body, leading to weight gain, brain fog and low mood, which triggers the cycle all over again.
Push the right buttons
Try to identify the ‘triggers’ which cause you to reach for unhealthy things you may crave. Perhaps you’re tired from juggling work and children so reach for the wine at 6 pm every evening. Maybe you mindlessly snack on crisps and chocolate when scrolling through your emails. Falling into these kinds of behavioural patterns is easy to do. After all, humans are creatures of habit. But by making a concerted effort to replace a bad habit with a good one (and stick with it), you create positive habit-forming neural pathways which will be easier to maintain in the long term. Try deep breathing exercises, gentle stretches or brisk walks in nature next time you find yourself anxious and craving processed junk food.
Keep your fridge stocked with healthy foods
Yesterday’s leftover treats can still haunt us today, especially if we’re feeling peckish and craving junk. Try making sure you don’t keep unhealthy foods in your fridge and prepare yourself by filling it with healthy snacks instead. Try to have your meals planned, something we are more than happy to help with. Here at Balance Box, our menus are carefully created to bring you the perfect balance of essential fats, protein and carbohydrates to feel energised, stronger and nutritionally supported each day. With Balance Box, you wont even be hungry for the junk food, because you’ll be full up on nutritious and healthy meals instead.
Top brain loving foods
Ensure you eat a wide variety of the following foods to optimise your cognitive function.
- Up to 95% of serotonin – the ‘happy hormone’ – is produced in the gut, so it’s important to incorporate plenty of pre-and probiotics into your diet.  Leafy vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, as well as fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, and Kombucha, will keep your microbiome and your mind healthy.
- Many fruits and vegetables, beans, and pulses, as well as wholemeal bread and pasta, contain complex carbohydrates which stabilise your mood and release sugar into the body slowly – crucial for avoiding the post-lunch slump and episodes of ‘hanger.’
- Free-range organic eggs are a great source of protein and precious B-vitamins which contribute to healthy brain function.
- Salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines contain long-chain Omega-3 fats which are important for brain function and the communication of serotonin and dopamine. Seafood is also a great source of zinc which is involved in almost every aspect of neural activity. Research suggests that it reduces anger and depression in young women too.
And finally, don’t forget to exercise. That ‘runner’s high’ you get from bursts of cardio does wonders for your mood and has been scientifically proven to improve your emotional health, energy and cognitive capabilities.
At Balance Box, our mission is to help people become healthier and happier through a nutritionally balanced diet. If you’re looking to improve your mental health and boost your mood, consider our meal programmes that have been carefully designed to give you all the essential vitamins, minerals and fats you need to function at your best.
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