In today’s society most people have a tendency to look at their meals as a disruption from our hectic schedules, so, in order to save time, they grab what’s handy and convenient.
The problem with this method is the fact that most ready to eat foods are high in trans-fats, simple carbohydrates, and empty calories. And while it will fill a belly, it’s unhealthy for the brain.
In fact, this kind of diet, besides the usual warnings out there of how bad it is for everyone’s heart, health, and longevity, is terrible for mental health. For some reason, the medical community fails to come to grip with the fact that health, whole health, includes mental health, which is as important, if not more important, than physical health.
All we need to do, is to make a few different choices when it comes to our diet. WE can make better choices at the grocery store. Put down those cupcakes, and pick up some fruit. No, it isn’t as decadent and ‘tasty’ as a cupcake. But changing to a healthy diet will not only make people live longer, it’ll help make us to live happier, fuller lives. So, let’s get started.
First and foremost is hydration. We’ve all heard it. Drink six to eight 8 ounces glasses of water every day. Humdrum. Boring. Cliché. It’s cliché, because it’s true. What most don’t know is water is important for proper brain function. Dehydration leads to fatigue, mood change (usually not for the better), and difficulty concentrating.
Try to avoid sugary drinks, and caffeinated beverages. The sugary drinks have a lot of simple carbohydrates in the form of refined sugar. This can cause a spike in your blood sugar levels, which in turn can cause radical mood swings.
Caffeinated beverages, while usually also full of refined sugar, and all the problems that presents, also has the double whammy of stimulants. Over stimulation can cause panic, anxiety, and nervousness. It’s been suggested by the medical community that caffeinated drinks be limited to 1 to 2 a day.
Leafy greens such as romaine, spinach, mustard and turnip greens, and broccoli contain high amounts of folic acid. B vitamins, folic acid being a B vitamin (B9, in fact), are essential to mental health. In diets deficient in B vitamins, there is a higher rate of fatigue, depression, and insomnia.
It’s best to eat leafy greens raw, as cooking reduces the benefits by removing some of the nutrients in the greens. However, there is still a lot to be gained from cooked greens, verses no greens.
Avocados are becoming recognized for it’s health benefits in many different areas. Avocados are fairly fatty. In this instance, it’s a good fat. Mono-saturated fats contribute to healthy blood flow, and lowers blood pressure. This increases blood flow to the brain as well, and allows for more nutrients to be absorbed, due to the lower blood pressure. However, avocados need to be handled with some self control. They are heavy in fat, and too much can cause a weight gain. Aim for no more than ¼ to ½ avocado a day to reap the most benefits without suffering the hindrance of weight gain.
Legumes, also known as beans to most, are becoming recognized for their ability to stabilize glucose levels. What this means in mental health terms is a steady, uninterrupted flow of energy for the brain. This in turn leads to a more stable mood, with less mood swings. Shoot for ½ cup a day, as more will most likely clear the room. No one likes to be lonely.
Nuts and seeds, while containing some fats, are an excellent source of vitamin E. Vitamin E is known to help in stopping, and in some cases reversing, cognitive decline. Try 1 ounce a day for improved cognition. Almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, and any nut butter that is low in unhydrogenated fats are some good sources of vitamin E.
Fruits play a vital role in mental health too. Eat a cup a day of brightly colored berries for their antioxidant properties, which will protect from free radicals. There is a study going on that seems to indicate that blueberries can help stave off Alzheimer’s. Citrus fruits contain flavinoids, which aids memory, and cognitive functions.
Lean Protein, particularly chicken, turkey, and eggs, contain an essential amino acid called tryptophan. Tryptophan, called nature’s Prozac, leads to the production of serotonin, which plays a key role in mood stabilization, and sleep. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. Because the body cannot produce it, and must rely on outside sources, it can only be attained through eating sources high in tryptophan, or by taking supplements. Contrary to popular belief, tryptophan does not cause the Thanksgiving nap. That comes from overeating, which causes the body to focus the blood on the digestive tract, instead of the brain.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines. Alternatively, chicken fed on flax seed and walnuts contain a decent amount of Omega-3. Long touted as an anti-inflammatory, new benefits are being discovered. Omega-3 has been found to reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, ADHD, and other mental disorders. It affects the production of neurotransmitters, including dopamine and serotonin. Aim for 4 ounce portions, 2 to 3 times a week.
For the best chance of success, people who slowly incorporate these products into their diet stand a much better chance of making a permanent life change. Too large a change too quickly leads most people back to the path their comfortable with. Make the decision to start changing today for a healthier brain.