Mealtime And Your Mind: How Nutrition Affects Mental Health…

Mealtime And Your Mind: How Nutrition Affects Mental Health

By now you have heard about many things you can do to improve your mental health: get plenty of sleep, learn new things, spend time in natural settings and reduce stress levels. But there is even more you can do to enhance cognitive function: pay attention to your diet. Remarkably, the relatively new field of nutritional psychology is discovering that what you eat and drink affects not just your physical well-being but also your mental health.

Eat Regularly

It’s not just what you eat but when you eat that can affect your mood. Small portions spaced throughout the day can help you avoid the dips and spikes in blood sugar levels that tend to cause irritability, mood swings and feelings of depression. Many people find they function best when they eat breakfast, a morning snack, lunch, an afternoon snack, then dinner. To further reduce wide fluctuations in blood sugar levels, each meal and snack should include foods that release energy slowly: protein, fiber and whole grains like oats, brown rice and barley.

Enjoy the Right Kind of Fats

There was a time when people thought it might be best to avoid fats altogether but now nutritionists know that is not the case. Fats are necessary and healthy, especially the omega-3 fatty acids found in avocados and oily fish like salmon and sardines. Other good sources include chicken and certain types of nuts. Find unrefined olive oil brands you like and mix with vinegar and spices to make delicious salad dressings and marinades. Ingesting adequate amounts of omega fatty acids supports the production of dopamine and serotonin, the brain chemicals that regulate mood. Furthermore, the acids improve memory and enrich the brain’s ability to learn new information.

Emphasize Lean Proteins

Proteins are made up of amino acids, some of which help build and regulate serotonin. Good sources of lean protein include fish, eggs, cheese and beans. Chicken, seafood and walnuts are great for their protein and also contain selenium. This mineral is essential because it can enhance your immune system and help regulate your metabolism, both of which are instrumental in proper mental function.

Include Fruits and Vegetables

In addition to providing energy and fiber, fruits and vegetables contain the minerals and vitamins the brain needs to work properly. In fact, including produce in a variety of colors is believed to help ward off Alzheimer’s disease in aging adults. People of all ages can benefit from dark greens like spinach and broccoli, which are good sources of folate, a B vitamin that may help fight insomnia and ward off certain mental disorders.

Relish Probiotics

Probiotics are basically helpful germs. These beneficial microorganisms and bacteria are present in the live cultures found in yogurt and other fermented foods such as sauerkraut, tempeh and kimchi. They are believed to help bring about a more positive mental outlook, reduced anxiety and lower stress levels. Cultures whose diets are traditionally rich in fermented foods tend to have lower incidence of depression, leading scientists to suggest a link between probiotics and overall mental well-being.

Hydrate Properly

Adequate hydration is key to maintaining regular digestion, energy and mental focus. Water is best because it contains no caffeine, sugar or artificial colors and flavorings, so be sure to consume the recommended six to eight glasses each day. For extra flavor and interest add citrus, berries, cucumber or mint. Other tasty options include herbal tea and unsweetened, diluted fruit juice; green tea is also healthy but does contain moderate amounts of caffeine.

Avoid Certain Foods

A growing number of studies indicate there are benefits to avoiding processed and sugary food and drinks. Fast food and sugar may be linked to greater incidence of attention deficit and hyperactivity in children and adolescents, and reducing junk food consumption can improve symptoms of depression in adults. Cutting down caffeine may help if you are experiencing jitters, anxiety or insomnia. Alcohol can have many adverse effects on the brain so be sure to consume it in limited quantities, if at all. Remember that what you eat and drink affects every aspect of your health, including your mood and your mind.


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