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Nourishing Your Mind: Foods for Mental Wellness




The food we eat has a profound impact on not only our physical health but also our mental wellness. As a wellbeing coach, I am passionate about helping individuals harness the power of nutrition to support their mental wellbeing.


In this blog post, I will share some insights into how eating for mental wellness can make a significant difference in our lives, provide you with a list of foods to include in your diet, along with the reasons behind their beneficial effects on the brain and body.


The Gut-Brain Connection


Before covering specific foods for you to eat, it's essential to understand the gut-brain connection. Recent research has shown that there is a strong link between our gut health and our mental health. The gut is often referred to as our "second brain" because it contains millions of neurons and produces various neurotransmitters that affect our mood and emotions.


The gut-brain connection, also called the "gut-brain axis," is a complex and bidirectional communication system between the gastrointestinal tract (the gut) and the brain. They constantly exchange information and signals via various neural, hormonal, and immune pathways. This information can influence mood, appetite, emotions, brain function, behaviour and inflammation.


I have included some further information on the gut brain axis at the end of this blog post for anyone who would like to learn more about the science!


Foods to Eat for Mental Wellness


Whilst no single food is a magic cure, incorporating the following brain-boosting foods into your diet can contribute to better mood, cognitive function, memory, and overall brain health. It's essential to maintain a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods for the best results in supporting your brain's well-being.


This list of foods are known to boost brain health due to them being Vitamin and nutrient-rich and having positive effects on cognitive function:


Fatty Fish: Salmon, mackerel, trout, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is essential for brain health and cognitive function.


Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, and other berries are packed with antioxidants that protect the brain from oxidative stress and improve memory and cognitive function.


Leafy Greens: Spinach, kale, Swiss chard, celery, lettuces, cabbages, leeks and green herbs such as coriander, mint, dill and chives are abundant in folate and vitamin K, which support brain development and cognitive abilities.


Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, pumpkin and chia seeds provide healthy fats, antioxidants, and omega-3s, as well as zinc, magnesium which can enhance sleep, brain function and protect against cognitive decline.


Avocado: Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fats and vitamin E, which may help protect brain cells and improve blood flow to the brain.


Broccoli: Broccoli is rich in antioxidants, including vitamin C and quercetin, which have been linked to improved brain health and cognitive function.


Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolate contains flavonoids and caffeine that can enhance cognitive function, improve mood, and increase alertness when consumed in moderation.


Whole Grains: Whole grains like oats, quinoa, and brown rice provide a steady supply of glucose to the brain, supporting energy and cognitive function.


Eggs: Eggs are a good source of choline, a nutrient that is essential for brain development.


Oranges and Citrus Fruits: These fruits are high in vitamin C, which has been associated with improved mental agility and reduced risk of age-related cognitive decline. They're also full of Vitamin C which can boost immunity.


Tomatoes: Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that may protect against the development of neurodegenerative diseases.


Beets: Beets are a good source of nitrates, which helps increase blood flow to the brain


Probiotic Foods: foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut & kimchi promote a healthy gut microbiome, positively influencing mood and cognitive function. A balanced gut microbiome can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety while enhancing overall mental wellness.


Herbs and spices: As well as adding flavour to foods, herbs and spices are packed full of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Evidence shows that spices and herbs possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antitumorigenic, anticarcinogenic, and glucose- and cholesterol-lowering properties as well as properties that affect cognition and mood. Try adding cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, thyme, oregano, rosemary and others to your food each day.



10 small changes to support eating for mental wellness


Here are some tips on how you can make small changes to your existing diet to improve mental wellness instead of making a huge overhaul, for example adding good foods rather than taking away. Making small, sustainable changes to your existing diet is an excellent approach to improving mental wellness without feeling overwhelmed.


Here are some tips on adding nutritious foods and habits to your diet gradually:


  1. Start Your Day Right

Begin your mornings with a balanced breakfast that includes whole grains, fruits, and protein. For instance, add a handful of berries, nuts and seeds to your cereal or yogurt. Walnuts and banana contain magnesium which will help you sleep better that evening.


2. Include portions of these foods


Berries - daily keep a bowl of fresh or frozen berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries) in your kitchen and add them to your snacks or meals. Berries are rich in antioxidants that support brain health


Leafy Greens - daily - incorporate leafy greens into your sandwiches, wraps, salads or smoothies. Add them as a side dish to your lunch or evening meal, drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice for extra tasty goodness.


Fatty Fish - weekly - aim to include fatty fish like salmon or trout in your diet once a week. It's a manageable change that provides essential omega-3 fatty acids for brain health.

3. Allow yourself treats


Depriving ourselves completely never works long term. If you love an afternoon treat, or something sweet after dinner, is there a way you can still have a smaller portion of a treat, and add in something healthy and balanced alongside it? Some healthier choices include: a handful of nuts and dried fruit, a nut butter cracker, greek yogurt with nuts and honey, a few pieces of dark chocolate, sliced apple and peanut butter.

4. Nourishing Smoothies and Soups


Make smoothies with a base of yogurt or almond milk and add ingredients like bananas, spinach, and a spoonful of chia seeds for an extra nutrient boost. Soups are also a great way to add in more veg.

5. Opt for Whole Foods and Grains where you can


Whole foods haven't been processed, refined or had ingredients added to them. Whole foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, meat, fish and eggs. Processed foods are foods that have undergone substantial modification, transforming them away from their original form. This process strips them of nutrients, bleaches them, combines chemicals, and other unnatural additives. As a result, the look, feel, and the taste is different from their natural form.


The best way to get an idea of the amount of processing a food has undergone is by looking at the ingredient list. A list with one or two ingredients may indicate a less-processed food, and a longer ingredient list, especially with words you don't recognise typically means more processing.


A simple swap is to eat whole grains (brown bread, pasta and rice) instead of processed grains (white bread, pasta and rice)

6. Drink more water


Make a habit of drinking water throughout the day. Staying hydrated can positively impact your mood and cognitive function. Have a large glass of water every morning to replace water you've lost whilst you sleep. Think hydrate before you caffeinate!


Replace sugary or highly caffeinated drinks with herbal teas like chamomile or green tea. These teas are gentle on your nervous system.

7. Try a new vegetable each week


Experiment with adding one new vegetable to your shopping basket each week. Roast, steam, or sauté it as a side dish or add it to your salads and stir-fries.


8. Mindful Eating


Mindful eating can help you make better food choices and enjoy your meals more.


We spend much of our day on autopilot and this can include our eating. When we're busy or stressed we reach for quick fixes and sugary snacks for a short term boost. Coffee for breakfast, biscuits for snacks. If this sounds like you, try to become more conscious about what you're reaching for. A question I like to ask myself when I'm reaching for a snack is "what's the kindest thing I can give my mind and body right now" - sometimes I carry on with the biscuit, sometimes I choose something better for me.


Also pay attention to your mealtime. Sit down and really savour your food. Avoid distractions like phones or TV.

9. Plan Balanced Meals

  1. When planning your meals, aim for a balanced combination of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates. A well-rounded plate contributes to stable energy levels and mood.

10. Be Patient and Kind to Yourself


Remember that making small changes is a gradual process. Don't be too hard on yourself, and celebrate your successes along the way.


Seasonal Recipe Ideas


If you'd like some seasonal recipe ideas making the most of these nourishing ingredients, take a look at these blog posts:



Conclusion


By incorporating small changes over time, you can gradually improve your mental wellness while still enjoying the foods you love.


Remember that while these foods can be beneficial, a holistic approach to mental wellness also involves regular exercise, stress management, and adequate sleep. As a wellbeing coach, I encourage you to make informed choices about your diet and lifestyle, as they play a vital role in achieving a happier, healthier you.


The sciencey bit!


The Vagus Nerve: One of the key communication pathways in the gut-brain axis is the vagus nerve. This long, wandering nerve connects the brainstem to various organs in the body, including the gut. Through the vagus nerve, signals are sent between the gut and the brain, influencing mood, appetite, and stress responses.


Neurotransmitters: The gut is home to a vast network of neurons known as the enteric nervous system. This "second brain" in the gut produces many of the same neurotransmitters found in the brain, such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. These neurotransmitters play crucial roles in regulating mood and emotions.


Microbiome: The gut is populated by trillions of microorganisms collectively known as the gut microbiome. These bacteria, viruses, and fungi have a profound impact on gut health and overall well-being. They can produce various metabolites and signaling molecules that influence brain function and behaviour.


Immune System: The gut houses a significant portion of the body's immune system. Immune cells in the gut can release cytokines and other signaling molecules that can affect the brain's function and even contribute to inflammation, which has been linked to mood disorders.


Hormones: Hormones produced in the gut, such as ghrelin (which regulates hunger) and leptin (which controls appetite), can signal to the brain and influence eating behavior and mood.



If you want to improve your wellbeing and feel better every day, book in a free 30 minute consultation with me to find out more about Wellbeing Coaching. You'll walk away from the call with 3 ways to feel better straight away.




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