Its National Psychology Week this week which is all about helping you improve your wellbeing and happiness by promoting ways to thrive in life. This got us thinking about mental health so we thought it would be a good opportunity to talk to our resident nutrition expert Alix Murphy about how food, and what we eat, affects our brain and subsequent mental health.
Through constant research updates, we are learning more and more about the link between our brain and gut, and how intimate this connection really is. What we eat directly impacts upon our moods and mental health. This is referred to as the ‘gut-brain axis‘.
One way that we can all be proactive in preventing depression and anxiety symptoms is by consuming more ‘smile foods’.
So what actually are smile foods?
‘Smile foods’ is a phrase I’ve given to a group of wholefoods that really support and nourish your gut-brain axis. Together they provide many essential nutrients to help you maintain cognitive function, energy, resilience and function optimally – reducing mental burn out and illness.
Here are three examples of smile foods:
Fish (wild salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and sardines)
These fish varieties are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which increase satiety (reducing the need to reach for processed, high GI foods), maintains cognitive function and increases energy. Essential fatty acid deficiencies are associated with the development of depression and increase the frequency of anxiety symptoms.
These fish varieties also contain protein and amino acids which are essential for healthy neurological function as they create neurotransmitters in the brain. Many studies have shown how a low protein diet disrupts neurotransmitter synthesis and can exacerbate or cause depression and anxiety symptoms.
Nuts and seeds (almonds, brazil nuts, chia seeds, flax seeds etc)
Many nuts and seeds contain good quantities of L-tryptophan, an essential amino acids which is involved in the creation of serotonin – which has antidepressant properties and contributes to the improvement of depression. A number of nuts and seeds also contain zinc, which has also been shown to have antidepressant properties and deficiencies are associated with the development and increased frequency of anxiety symptoms.
Dark leafy greens
Many dark coloured leafy greens, such as spinach, collard greens and kale are rich in B vitamins required for a healthy nervous system and deficiencies can cause depression, anxiety, fatigue, phobias, obsessive thoughts, reduced resilience (impaired stress response), irritability and reduced cognitive function (loss of concentration, reduced focus, loss of memory and reduced performance).
These wonderful greens also contain Vitamin C, which is found in high amounts in the brain as it acts as both an antioxidant and decreases stress, and magnesium, which is essential for healthy neurological function and deficiencies have been linked to both depression and anxiety.
Whilst there are many more foods and nutrients that can play a role in preventing and treating mental health conditions, these 3 foods are very simple to incorporate into your diet – if you don’t already! You may even like to find some other foods that are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, protein, B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc and share those with us.
It is important to note that whilst some mental health concerns may be prevented or treated by nutrition and other lifestyle factors, this does not devalue the serious and complex nature mental health conditions. If you are currently experiencing any symptoms, please contact Beyondblue on 1300 224 636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.