This is a special guest post by contributor Megan Santiago of Holistic Momma, a natural anxiety relief focused blog from a psychotherapist in training.
What Makes a Food Good For Mental Health?
Many factors can play a role in mental health, such as foods that reduce inflammation, improve gut health, and are real, whole foods rich in vitamins and minerals. Brain inflammation has contributed to many different disorders such as anxiety, ADHD, depression, and more.
Organic foods have a higher nutrient content and lower pesticide content. Organic produce is delivered to have higher polyphenol (antioxidant) content and higher anti-inflammatory omega-3s than dairy products. Organic produce contains lower levels of heavy metals and higher nutritional value. Therefore choosing organic when you can, adds up over time and can help you get the most significant amount of nutrition in every meal. (Mie et al., 2017)
How Do Foods Affect Your Mental Health?
Let's say it this way; we can acknowledge that we get "hangry" when we go without food for long periods, right? Also, we recognize that nutrition plays a role in body composition?
Well, then it's clear that food can affect our mental health.
This is because we often get "hangry." After all, serotonin is mainly produced in the gut, and when it is low, hence the hangriness. Also, inflammation can cause a whole host of problems; just like it can cause pain and sickness in our bodies, it can also affect our mental health.
That's why these foods cover different aspects of mental health, including adrenal and neurotransmitter function as well as energy, blood sugar balance, and more.
One cup of avocado contains around 67 mg of magnesium; it is recommended that you take roughly 300mg per day. Adding avocados to your daily diet has many benefits, including magnesium for its anxiety benefits.
In addition, it has around 200 mcg of folate and 1,116 mg of potassium, which your body can not keep its levels of potassium up without consuming around 400-800mg per day and a cup of avocado. Adults over 18 are recommended to take at least 2,000mg per day; low levels of potassium can cause memory loss. In addition, low levels of folate can cause irritability, difficulty concentrating, and headaches.
Avocados are a great source of healthy fats along with brain fuel from the many vitamins and minerals they contain.
Sprouted Organic Brown Rice
Brown rice contains fiber and protein, which helps balance blood sugar and energy. It also contains nutrients that support a healthy mind, such as niacin for depression and magnesium, and is high in amino acids like glycine, glutamine, etc.
Sprouted grains, nuts, and seeds are easier to break down and absorb the vitamins and minerals.
Bone broth contains around 7-10g of protein per serving, not to mention potassium and magnesium. Bone broth is beneficial for gut health, and an easy way to add it to your diet is by cooking meat or rice. When your recipe says to use "chicken stock," swap it for chicken bone broth to improve your gut health.
This is more of a drink, but green tea is rich in antioxidants such as polyphenols and EGCG. Green tea has anti-cancer benefits such as EGCG inducing apoptosis (cell death), and cancer increases cell production. Our bodies contain an antioxidant defense to respond to stress. Antioxidants help minimize inflammation and improve our body's ability to fight stress-induced disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder and even schizophrenia and depression. (Gautam et al., 2012)
Green tea's rich antioxidant profile helps fight free radicals. Research shows that drinking 4 cups of green tea per day reduced oxidative stress by 32%, and this was even in a group of smokers who are increasing their oxidative stress through smoking. (Forester & Lambert, 2011)
Sweet Red Peppers
Red Peppers are high in vitamin c containing 95 mg of Vitamin C per ½ cup. Vitamin C is essential for proper adrenal function by helping avoid burnout and cortisol levels dropping too low. Vitamin C also helps support dopamine levels which are your "pleasure" and motivation neurotransmitter. (He et al., 2015)
Kimchi is similar to sauerkraut; it is fermented vegetables that contain healthy bacteria (probiotics). Lactobacillales is a probiotic found in the upper digestive tract, and it is a significant benefit of kimchi! Cruciferous vegetables are typically a big part of kimchi, and they help with hormone balance and filtering out excess estrogen in the body.
Probiotics support gut health which also impacts your mental health. There is a system called the enteric nervous system that connects your "gut" to your brain. Therefore boosting your gut with this probiotic-rich food, your body has a better chance of fighting inflammation and helping you produce more serotonin.
What makes food great for mental health can be based on many different factors. However, ones that come from the ground or have a mother and are organic, grass-fed, etc., will be the most nutrient-dense. Also, foods that reduce inflammation, help with nutrient deficiency, and raise low neurotransmitter levels can help support your mental health.
Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is very important to fight mental illnesses and change your thought processes (cognitions) and your behaviors (small habits that add up to much larger ones). The combination of these lifestyle changes can add up to giving yourself a much healthier outlook on life.
If you find it hard to "eat healthily," look for recipes that you really enjoy and shop organic and local as often as possible. Then you will be more excited to eat healthy when you have meals that you enjoy, and you can hide those veggies that you may not want to eat by themselves.
Forester, S. C., & Lambert, J. D. (2011). The role of antioxidant versus pro-oxidant effects of green tea polyphenols in cancer prevention. Molecular nutrition & food research, 55(6), 844–854. https://doi.org/10.1002/mnfr.201000641
Gautam, M., Agrawal, M., Gautam, M., Sharma, P., Gautam, A. S., & Gautam, S. (2012). Role of antioxidants in generalized anxiety disorder and depression. Indian journal of psychiatry, 54(3), 244–247. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.102424
He, X. B., Kim, M., Kim, S. Y., Yi, S. H., Rhee, Y. H., Kim, T., Lee, E. H., Park, C. H., Dixit, S., Harrison, F. E., & Lee, S. H. (2015). Vitamin C facilitates dopamine neuron differentiation in the fetal midbrain through TET1- and JMJD3-dependent epigenetic control. Stem cells (Dayton, Ohio), 33(4), 1320–1332. https://doi.org/10.1002/stem.1932
Mie, A., Andersen, H. R., Gunnarsson, S., Kahl, J., Kesse-Guyot, E., Rembiałkowska, E., Quaglio, G., & Grandjean, P. (2017). Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture: a comprehensive review. Environmental health: a global access science source, 16(1), 111. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-017-0315-4