Exercise is known as a ‘wonder drug’ when it comes to fighting depression. Walking for over 20 minutes has shown to decrease negative thoughts in an individual. However, no one seems to talk about food when it comes to mental health. Food has proven to be an important, but often overlooked, a method to reduce depression.
Have you ever heard the term, we are what we eat? This may be truer than you think. Many types of research have proven that a well-balanced diet promotes feelings of happiness and well-being.
With mental health conditions on the rise, we need to try whatever natural methods are out there to alleviate these conditions. A diet that includes fresh fruit and vegetables is also great for reducing anxiety and depression.
What kind of nutrition does the brain need?
While the brain accounts for r
oughly 2% of our body weight, it consumes about 20% of the total oxygen. As it controls all the body functions, it requires a steady supply of energy. The energy needed by the brain is supplied in the form of fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and nutrients.
The brain is mostly made up of fats. Roughly sixty percent of the brain substance comprises of fats. The brain is in a constant need of healthy fatty acids to function properly. It requires essential fatty acids which the body cannot synthesize itself. These need to be taken in the diet or as supplements.
Imbalance in intake of fatty acids leads to several diseases and improper functioning of the brain. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain development.
The brain performs a variety of functions that control the entire body. For this, the brain uses substances to transfer information within itself. These substances can be thought of as messengers which are called neurotransmitters. The brain needs proteins to make enzymes and neurotransmitters.
Glucose functions as the most important fuel for the brain. Diets containing carbs that are readily available increase cognitive function. In the absence of glucose and carbs, the brain uses ketones made from fats as fuel.
Carbohydrates from whole foods like legumes, vegetables, and fruit are better for the functioning of your brain. Processed foods should be avoided.
10 Foods for better mental health
The most beneficial foods for your mental health are given below.
Fish has always been considered great for the brain. This seafood is high in proteins, vitamins, and minerals. It is also low in saturated fats, making fish an ideal food choice. It is a rich source of DHA, an Omega 3 fatty acid. Salmon is especially good for the brain.
Remember that our brains are made mostly of fat. Our bodies are unable to manufacture essential fatty acids, so we need to take them in our food.
DHA, a long chain omega-3 fatty acid, is found in the fat layers of fish, shellfish, and algae. DHA has proven to be beneficial in not just depression, but several other diseases, such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
If you are wondering how they can be beneficial in so many diseases, the answer is because they prevent inflammation.
Fish oils have an overall amazing impact on the brain as they help prevent mild memory loss as well. They maintain brain function by helping keep the cell membranes of brain cells healthy. A decrease in DHA has been related to a reduction in the size of the brain. This makes the aging process faster.
Consuming fish is also proven to be a great help for the elderly. Elders between 60-80 years of age who consume fish more than twice a week had less than half chances of developing macular edema. This is compared to those who did not eat any fish.
Eating tuna helps prevent strokes and cognitive decline in the elderly.
These are rich in antioxidants! These gorgeous little berries don’t only look and taste great, they are also a powerhouse of antioxidants.
Antioxidants are powerful chemicals that are needed by the body to repair damages. With increasing pollution and Ultra Violet rays, our bodies need more antioxidants to reduce the damages. Antioxidants reduce inflammation and prevent further damage.
Berries also contain compounds that are called polyphenols. These belong to a group of antioxidants called flavonoids. These polyphenols have an incredible effect on the brain. They help improve memory, concentration and attention span as well. Diets which incorporate high levels of polyphenols cause a decrease in depression. They also cause mood elevation and decrease cognitive decline.
Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries are also rich in vitamin C. they are a great source of fiber as well.
Blueberries are thought to have extremely high levels of antioxidants, more than other fruits and vegetables. They also help prevent DNA damage caused by free radicals.
Oranges are sweet, juicy, and delicious. From boosting your immune system to helping you improve your heart health, oranges have a wide span of health benefits. They are especially well known for the excess amount of Vitamin C. All the vitamin C you need in a day is present in a single orange. Yes, you got that right, one medium-sized orange contains all the vitamin C you need in a day. Even better news, vitamin C plays an essential role in preventing mental deterioration.
Vitamin C plays an important part in the prevention of mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease in the aging population. It is a powerful antioxidant that binds to the free radicals causing damage to brain cells. It also helps age-related decline of mental function. Vitamin C intake is also shown to decrease the risk and severity of strokes.
Although oranges are low in calories, they are rich in vitamin C. Consuming too many oranges can lead to an excess of vitamin C, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, headaches, bloating and heartburn. Limit your intake to one orange per day.
The intestines normally have some healthy bacteria which are essential for normal body functioning. Probiotics found in yogurt help regulate the helpful bacteria in the gut.
Yogurt contains healthy bacteria called probiotics which are incredibly beneficial for the body. Probiotics are bacteria that are good for the body and promote their healthy functioning. They are shown to reduce anxiety and stress hormones. Yogurt can even help people cope with mood swings and pain. This is done by regulating a hormone called GABA.
GABA is one of the signaling chemicals in the brain. It has a calming and relaxing effect, and it slows down some activity in the brain. When GABA is low, the brain overworks. Certain bacteria in the gut such as lactobacillus are linked with GABA level regulations. A decrease in their level leads to increased brain activity and inflammation.
This is because these bacteria are needed for B6 absorption and activation by the gut. B6 is necessary for the formation of GABA.
Proteins are essential building blocks of the body and are important for the mind as well. The amino acid (building blocks of proteins) tryptophan is responsible for the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that contributes to a feeling of well-being and happiness.
Lean proteins that help keep serotonin levels in balance include fish, turkey, chicken, eggs, and beans.
Eggs are considered the perfect breakfast food for people with depression. They are a rich source of nutrients like vitamin B6, B12, folate, and choline which are necessary for brain health.
Choline is responsible for improving memory and the functioning of the brain. Egg yolks are one of the richest sources of choline. Just one egg yolk contains about 112 mg of choline. The average daily requirement of an adult is 425-550 mg per day.
Vitamin B6 and B12 help slow down mental deterioration in the elderly. A decrease in folate and B12 levels can cause or aggravate depression. Dementia or forgetfulness is commonly seen in the case of folate deficiency. Folic acid supplements help slow down age-related mental slowness.
These are a rich source of vitamin B6. A large banana contains about 0.5 mg of the daily requirement of around 1.1-1.7 mg of vitamin B6. This vitamin helps in improving memory and cognitive function.
Proteins are digested and broken down by the body. One of the by-products of protein break down is ammonia, which can cause slowing down of the brain function. Magnesium is a nutrient that helps convert ammonia to urea. This helps the body in getting rid of ammonia. And to get more magnesium from food, you need to eat bananas because they are rich in magnesium.
Bananas are also a rich source of tryptophan and tyrosine which are essential amino acids. These amino acids are used to make neurotransmitter in the brain. They are needed to make GABA in the brain, which helps decrease anxiety and calms a person down.
Dark leafy green vegetables are great food for the brain. All leafy greens are rich in folate. Spinach is especially famous because of 1). it brings back the memories of Popeye the sailor man, and 2). it is a rich source of folate, iron, calcium, and vitamin K and E. All these nutrients help in maintaining brain function by protecting it from forgetfulness, which is also called dementia.
Folate that is in spinach helps reduce levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is toxic to the brain cells. It also helps in forming and regulating neurotransmitters which act as messenger substances to the brain.
A deficiency in folic acid can cause severe mental fatigue, dementia, forgetfulness, anxiety, depression, and confusion. Spinach helps in preventing folate deficiency.
Another benefit of spinach is that it contains tyrosine, which is important in the production of two neurotransmitters: dopamine and adrenaline. These neurotransmitters keep your brain active and focused. Dopamine improves mood while norepinephrine improves learning and problem-solving ability, as well as memory functions.
It is a rich source of both choline and vitamin K. Choline improves memory. It also helps with learning. Research has discovered that children who eat broccoli tend to perform better in school.
A chemical named sulforaphane is present in broccoli. This chemical improves cognitive brain function even after brain injuries. It reduces the inflammation and swelling of the brain. Therefore, it also prevents further damage caused by swelling and decreased blood flow.
9. Dark Chocolate
Probably the yummiest option out of this entire list! This goes on to prove that healthy food can indeed be delicious. Research studies conducted on cocoa and its relationship with a fluent speaker in elderly conclude that cocoa improves the fluency of speech in the elderly. It also improves their cognitive function.
Research shows that dark chocolate improves blood flow to the brain. Also, dark chocolate also leads to the production of endorphins. This leads to a feeling of happiness.
Dark chocolates can also stimulate brain function because they contain caffeine and theobromine. This causes a short term increase in brain function.
10. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are incredibly nutritious, and they’re great for the brain too! They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which help the brain to make essential DHA fatty acids. Moreover, chia seeds also a great proteins source. They contain all nine essential amino acids. These are beneficial in mood stabilization as they help in making neurotransmitter substances.
Chia seeds are extremely rich in antioxidants. They prevent damage from free radicals. Another unique thing about Chia seeds is that they tend to have a slow release of glucose. This lets the brain efficiently use glucose as an energy fuel.
These are the top ten foods that can contribute to better mental health. Whether you are suffering from forgetfulness, mood swings or depression be sure to incorporate these in your diet. They will surely benefit you the same way as they helped others before you. Eat for your body, eat for your soul and never forget to eat for your mind!