Food For Thought – Foods to Nourish Your Brain and Support Your Mental Wellbeing
Ann Wigmore said it best: “The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots between diet and physical health. One would expect to develop nutritional deficiencies if their food staples were selected from the mindboggling assortment of prepackaged items available in the grocery store aisles, but did you know that there’s also a substantial link between our diet and brain health?
Experts are quick to point out that there are many factors which contribute to our overall mental wellbeing, such as loving relationships, human connection, our ability to cope with stressors, and genetic predisposition, but the role of food mustn’t be overlooked.
While no diet is capable of curing clinical depression, naturopathic doctors and nutritionists stress that the food we eat (or choose not to eat) contributes greatly to our brain health and overall mental wellbeing.
So what do we need eat in order to nourish our brains?
Omega-3 Fatty Acids are high on the list. While their list of virtues is long, their contribution to brain function and mental wellbeing is undeniable. You can find omega-3 fatty acids in fish and flax seed oil, but as always, quality is key. When you’re shopping for flax seed oil, look for high quality, organic brands in the natural food section of your grocery store or local health food store. Flax seed oil isn’t meant for cooking as it oxidizes at very low temperatures, but you can swallow a spoonful with your meal, or even pour it into smoothies. Salmon is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, but be certain your salmon is wild and responsibly sourced.
B-Vitamins – years ago, I visited a naturopathic doctor with some concerns about low-mood. The first thing she did was recommend B-vitamins in gel capsule form. I conducted my own research into the subject and learned that ample scientific research has linked depression with a deficiency in b-vitamins. If you choose to supplement, I recommend visiting a naturopathic doctor or an expert at your local health food store to ensure you get a high-quality supplement. You can also up your b-vitamin intake by consuming more dark leafy greens, potatoes, fortified cereals and pastas, legumes, and shellfish.
Blueberries – these little blue beauties are super fruit darlings. Sonnets could be written about the ways in which they benefit our bodies! Best of all, those off-the-chart levels of vitamins, phytonutrients, and antioxidants are terrific stress relievers.
Thyroid supporting foods – people tend to forget about their thyroid until it begins to functions improperly, and then, oh what havoc it wreaks! If you visit your GP with complaints of depression and low mood, don’t be surprised if the first thing they do is send you for bloodwork to check your thyroid function. This small gland located in the throat needs iodine for nutritional support, and you can find it in potatoes (scrubbed with skin on,) cranberries, iodine enriched salt, shell fish, and kelp. You can also purchase iodine supplement drops which are placed under the tongue from your local health food store, naturopath, or doctor of traditional Chinese medicine.
Maca Root – if you’ve never heard of the mood-boosting root, you’re not alone. This radish-relative grows high in Andes Mountain range, and is only recently gaining more widespread popularity. Many practitioners recommend this diet dreamboat for relief of the mood swings associated with PMS and menopause, as it regulates hormonal shifts. It’s also jam-packed with phytonutrients that control anxiety, plus fatty acids and amino acids, two more key components of good brain health. Purchase your maca from a naturopathic doctor or from your health food store, as quality it of upmost importance when choosing this supplement. You can purchase it in gel capsule form or in powder for mixing into beverages. This is one I swear by!
Chocolate – Let’s face it, sometimes just the thought of this stuff is enough to lift the mood! When we talk chocolate for brain-benefit, we’re talking pure, dark, organic, fair trade chocolate, not the sugary bars at the grocery store check-out. Research shows that chocolate produces the same chemical reaction as love, so of course it makes us feel good. It also reduces anxiety-producing cortisol, one of our brain’s least desirables. Keep a bar on hand at all times!
Whole Grains – much of today’s wheat-based foods have been processed to the point where their whole-grain goodness is destroyed or stripped away completely. Even most ‘whole wheat’ bread has been stripped of the germ, where the real dietary benefits lie. True whole grain foods such as breads and pasta contain magnesium, a natural anxiety fighter, and tryptophan, which the body converts into feel-good serotonin. Just be certain your whole grain product of choice is organic and contains the germ.
Vitamin D – Researchers have established a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression and panic disorders. You can find vitamin D in wild, responsibly sourced salmon, canned tuna fish and canned sardines. If fish isn’t your thing, have a tall glass of vitamin D fortified milk or orange juice. You can also take a vitamin D supplement, but talk to your doctor before choosing to supplement and deciding on a dosage. Experts agree that the best source of vitamin D is the sun, but sun-exposure risk must be kept in mind. A brisk, daily thirty minute walk should provide you with all the vitamin D you require. An added bonus to that daily walk is the fact that a Duke University study has established the link between depression and physical condition. A study involving patients diagnosed major depression concluded that a brisk 30-minute walk or jog three times a week produced remarkable results. After 16 weeks, 60.4% no longer met the criteria for a diagnosis of depression. That’s one more reason to get out of the office on your lunch break!
In this overstressed, undernourished age, caring for our mental wellbeing is more vital than ever. Incorporating brain-nourishing food into your diet might not be all you need to combat anxiety and depression if you find yourself suffering from their symptoms, but studies show that the right food and nutritional support helps. Never ignore symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental ailment. Seek out whatever supports you may need, be it a good friend or a good therapist, and in the meantime, nourish your mind and body with good, wholesome food, our ‘safest and most powerful form of medicine.’