More and more we are seeing increased rates of depression, anxiety, hyperactivity and other mood disorders especially among children. In my mind, it’s no coincidence that with the increased consumption of sugary, packaged junk foods which are dominating our supermarket shelves (and lunch boxes) today, that these mood disorders are on the rise and unfortunately, are becoming more and more prevalent. Science is now showing us the frightening effects of additives, colourings, and other nasty chemicals added to foods, and how these are negatively effecting our brain and thought patterns within hours of consumption.
We know that our eating habits not only affect our physical bodies and susceptibility to developing certain diseases, but what we now know is foods we eat also have a profound effect on our state of mind and psychological health.
When we are stressed, our eating habits often go out the window, and our mood and ability to think clearly and logically can cascade out of control. This can lead into a vicious cycle. While it’s super important fuel your physical body, it’s also critical to focus on getting sufficient amounts of neuronutrients to lay the biochemical basis for a healthy mindset to enhance your mood and improve your overall quality of life. Good nutrition is such a key component to a healthy body and mind.
While the effects of a poor diet can sometimes take several months or even years to manifest physically, when it comes to our mood, negative shifts can develop within a matter of hours of consuming the wrong foods. From headaches, mood swings, fatigue, disrupted sleep, anxiety and aggregation of panic attacks, depression and compulsive behaviour.
Research is now showing that foods can help or hinder our moods.
So what’s the mechanism behind this inside our bodies? Essentially, the nutrients in the foods we eat, provide the building blocks for the chemicals in our brain, known as neurotransmitters, which affect our state of mind and thinking patterns.
The three neurotransmitters in the brain, serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline all play different roles and help send impulses from one cell to the next. Each of these neurotransmitters is vitally important at different times of the day, depending on what stressors we are exposed to in our environments at any given time. Dopamine and noradrenaline help keep us alert, focused, motivated and productive. Both of these neurotransmitters are synthesized by the amino acid, tyrosine, which is found in protein rich foods such as meat, dairy, bananas, sesame seeds and avocado. On the other hand, Serotonin is what keeps us cool, calm and collected and gives a feeling of happiness and euphoria.
What’s important, is that the levels of these transmitters are determined by the foods we eat.
Jack Challem, author of The Food Mood Solution, introduces the brilliant notion of neuronutrients. Essential vitamins, minerals, and related nutrients that are needed to make neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters, in turn, are the chemicals that control our moods.
Here are some top nutritional and lifestyle tips to ensure you are getting the support and neuronutrients you need to for optimal mental health and wellness:
Starting the day with a good brekkie
What we eat (or don’t eat) when we first wake up in the morning, can set us up for triumph or into a downward spiral in terms of our mood and coping mechanisms throughout the day. It’s so important to start the day with nourishing foods such as healthy fats and good quality protein. This will not only kick-start your metabolism, but will also help to support your body and mind first thing in the morning. In my eyes, a perfectly nutritionally balanced brekky would be a free range poached egg, half an avocado and a side of sautéed kale in extra virgin coconut oil. Filling, delicious and full of the goodness your body needs to help keep the dopamine and noradrenaline pathways firing properly.
About two years ago, I discovered the power of meditation. And it’s a game changer. There are so many amazing health benefits associated with practicing meditation daily. From increased brain function, creativity, sleep, immunity, focus, decreased stress and anxiety, to improved relationships with loved ones and building empathy and compassion for others. If you haven’t tried it, definitely give it a go. Don’t let its simplicity deceive you. It’s suprisingly hard to sit in stillness. But once you’ve mastered the art, you’ll wish you’d tried it sooner!
Nearly 60% of the brain is made of fat, primarily omega 3 fatty acids, and in order for us to function properly, our brains need to maintain this level of fat. Foods rich in omega 3 DHA and EPA such as salmon, sardines, free range eggs and nuts and seeds are great for supporting brain health and known to help ease symptoms of mood disorders.