4 Simple types of food that can improve your mental health

    We have all read about the different foods we can eat to improve our heart health and body composition, but what about looking after our mind?

    Simple changes that can happen starting from tomorrow can boost our mental performance, reduce symptoms of stress and depression while promoting optimum levels of mental health.

    Most people, when thinking of improving brain power, they look into strategies on how to improve their IQ, learn something new or even engage to a stimulating conversation that will open up new mental pathways.

    As it seems, one of the simplest ways to maintain a healthy brain is by looking after what goes in your stomach. Similarly to how the rest of our body functions, our brain gets its energy and ‘good’ vibes from what we eat. This helps explain as to why we sometimes feel unmotivated or even unable to concentrate when we have consumed certain types of food. Just as the food we eat can has a negative impact to our body, it can also affect how we think and feel.

    Let’ see four different types of food that can help our mind operate at its best:

    Fatty fish can improve our mood levels

    Since our brains are made up largely of fat and our bodies cannot produce essential fatty acids, we have to make sure that we adopt a diet that includes omega-3s for our everyday needs.

    Different studies have shown that foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel (among others) have the ability to reduce symptoms of schizophrenia, depression and other mental disorders. [1] [2]

    This is due to the fact that omega-3s aid in the production of certain brain chemicals (neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin) that regulate our mood levels. In addition to their ‘mood elevating’ effects, consuming food rich in omega-3s can also improve our learning and memory capabilities.

    Leafy greens and vegetables can improve mental clarity

    Spinach, romaine, turnip and broccoli are only a few of the different vegetables and leafy greens that are rich in folic acid, or also known as folate.

    This is important due to the fact that insufficient amounts of folate and other B vitamins in our system have been associated with brain fog, depression and fatigue.

    It’s worth noting though that broccoli for example contains high amounts of selenium, a trace mineral that has an essential role to our immune system’s proper function. Studies have shown that low levels of selenium can lead to minor symptoms of depression, anxiety and exhaustion. [3]

    Whole grains can produce energy

    Our brain get its energy primarily from glucose, which in turn comes from carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates may result in low mood levels by increasing blood sugar and have been shown to have similar mental effects as when abusing drugs. [4]

    On the other hand though, complex carbs can release glucose at a slower rate which in turn can make us feel full for longer while creating a stable source of energy for both the brain and body. [4]

    Complex carbohydrates can be found in whole-wheat products, bulgur, oats, wild rice, barley, beans and soy.

    Lean protein can improve overall cognitive functioning

    Our diet is made up of foods that are broken down in order to make neurotransmitters and other chemicals, which in turn allow the different parts of our body and brain to communicate effectively.

    In addition to carbohydrates, our body is also abundant in amounts of protein. Tryptophan which is an amino acid and a building block of protein can have a direct effect to our mood levels by producing the neurotransmitter serotonin. [5]

    Serotonin is strongly linked with depression. Food sources rich in lean protein, including fish, turkey, chicken, eggs and beans, can aid in modulating our serotonin levels. Working together with complex carbohydrates, they can help improve the flow of tryptophan into the brain thus, decreasing symptoms of depression and anxiety while improving overall cognitive performance.

    Takeaway message

    Nowadays, we certainly have the capability and even power to create our own nutrition plan given the amount of health resources that our there. Following different healthy lifestyle tips may indeed be affected by external factors but most of us can make small changes to fight against these influences. For example, we can simply eat more fruits and vegetables, limit the intake of processed foods that come from bags and boxes, and start cooking meals from scratch.

    Unfortunately, the different lifestyle choices promoted by modern society and other environmental factors can not only impact our own health but also that of our children and grandchildren. The right nutrition is key to improving and maintaining optimum mental health, so try to adopt a healthy diet plan while promoting it to friends and family.

    Marios Kokolakis
    Marios Kokolakis
    Marios Kokolakis is the content manager at Brain Sharp. His goal is to encourage a healthy and purpose-driven life by blogging on areas around nutrition, fitness and healthy lifestyle tips. Get in touch via LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.

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