Healthy Eating for Mental Well being
Mental Health is a complex issue, stemming from a variety of social, biological and environmental factors. While many of these factors may be out of our control, one contributor to mental health we do have control over is the food we consume. Even if you do not suffer a form of mental illness in your lifetime, it is likely someone you know will, with one in five Australians aged 16-85 experiencing a mental illness in any year (ABS, 2009).
In recent years there has been a focus on the connection between mental health and the food we eat. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to this connection between food and brain health, with strong links between poor mental health in children and adolescents, to diets high in processed foods (O’Neil eta., 2014). Before we get into the specifics of how to eat for a healthy brain, let’s take a step back with a lesson on why what we eat effects our mental health. In order for your brain to decide how to interact with the world around you, elicit appropriate behaviours, improve your chances of survival and make you happy, it has to communicate with your body (Wenk, 2019). It does this through brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. The food we use to fuel our bodies has a direct impact on how these transmitters, or brain communicators, work.
The essential vitamins and minerals found in healthy, whole, unprocessed foods are essential to keeping our brain communicating properly; contributing to good mental health. By eating more fruit and vegetables, cooking at home and being aware of the sugar in our drinks it will help ensure that we receive all the essential vitamins and minerals our bodies and brains need. Some especially good brain foods include: fish, oysters, leafy greens, lettuce, capsicum, broccoli and cauliflower! (LaChance & Ramsey, 2018).
Remember those brain communicators we talked about? Well an important one linked to our mood and happiness called serotonin actually has 90% of its receptors in the gut (Naidoo, 2018). High-fat, ultra processed foods common in Australians diet tend to cause inflammation in the gut, negatively affecting these receptors (Naidoo, 2018). Opposite to processed foods, nutrient rich foods, such as fruit, vegetables and lean proteins help your gut thrive. A group of good bacteria called probiotics, found in fermented foods, are particularly good at restoring healthy gut bugs. Try including foods high in naturally occurring probiotics, rather than supplements, into a balanced diet. This includes fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yoghurt, kimchi and more. Refer to Country Kitchens Good Gut Health Guide for more info on how to keep your gut and brain happy! Good Gut Health Guide
Remember, food and nutrition is only one contributing factor in mental illness. If you or someone you know are suffering from mental illness, mood or anxiety disorders consult a professional. https://www.qld.gov.au/health/mental-health/help-lines/services
Written by Lindsey Nash, Health Promotion Team Leader Southern Region
Wenk, G. L. (2019). Your brain on food: How chemicals control your thoughts and feelings. Oxford University Press.
O’neil, A., Quirk, S. E., Housden, S., Brennan, S. L., Williams, L. J., Pasco, J. A., … & Jacka, F. N. (2014). Relationship between diet and mental health in children and adolescents: a systematic review. American journal of public health, 104(10), e31-e42.
Naidoo, Umo. (2018). Gut feelings: how food affects your mood. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/gut-feelings-how-food-affects-your-mood-2018120715548
LaChance, L. R., & Ramsey, D. (2018). Antidepressant foods: An evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression. World journal of psychiatry, 8(3), 97–104. doi:10.5498/wjp.v8.i3.97
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2009). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 4326.0, 2007. ABS: Canberra.