5 Foods That Help With Mental Health and Brain Function

5 Foods That Help With Mental Health and Brain Function


Everyone knows they should be eating better. You know that eating a banana is better for your waistline than eating that delicious burger. However, let’s talk about foods that help with mental health.

For a long time, it was thought that foods have no effect on your mental health and that they simply kept you full and fueled your muscles. That seems kind of foolish doesn’t it? I mean do you have more energy after you eat a high protein meal with greens than when you have your burger and fries? Yep, eating the first option might not be as fun but it’ll keep you fitter and also increase energy because you’re getting all the vital vitamins you need whilst ‘oiling’ your brain to function properly and smoothly.

My quest to maintain my anxiety and depression has lead me into looking into all kinds of things to share here on my blog. One thing that I wanted to explore in detail is how food affects mental health and our minds. We know that if we meditate, practise gratification, and play more we can keep away the anxiety and stress, but what about the thing we do all day? If we can turn the activity of eating into another way to regulate our mental health, then that would be powerful.

Let’s look at the research:

“Those who ate junk food 3 times a week showed greater signs of anxiety and depression“.

A recent interesting study found that young adults (under 30) eating fast food 3 times a week, showed greater signs of anxiety and depression than those who didn’t. Not too much of a surprise really, as fast food contains saturated fat which caused low-grade inflammatory in the body that can intern affect your overall mood, not to mention the guilt you might experience after a super-size Big Mac. Those in the same study who ate more fruit and less carbohydrates experienced less signs of depression or anxiety which had the researchers puzzled because carb intake is usually linked with more serotonin, our ‘feel good hormone’.

Another study looked at the links between sugar and depression:

In another recent study, which was part of a much wider study, researchers monitored participants food intake and more specifically the sugar they consumed. 8000 people were monitored over 22 years and one thing that researchers noticed was men who consumed 67 grams or more each day were 23% more likely to experience depression. Those who ate 40 grams or less a day seemed to be more in the ‘safe zone’. None of the men in the study were being treated before or during the study for mental health. Interestingly, the same pattern did not appear in women, however that’s not to say the same couldn’t happen with women.

Whilst the study points to men with high intakes and depression, it was not carried out in a controlled way to directly find a connection between sugar and depression. It was simply something that stuck out as odd during the study. So, whilst there might be some substance to these findings, more research would be needed to prove a link between sugar and depression, not to mention the same findings were not seen in female participants.

5 Foods That Help With Mental Health

So whilst more research is needed into the effect of food on mental health, there are foods that help with proper brain function and overall brain health. Incorporating these foods into your diet gives your brain a better chance of functioning properly and effectively.

1. Fatty Fish

Fatty fish isn’t what it sounds like. Fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, contain omega-3 fat which is vital for brain health. These are the fish that have an oily feel to them. Studies have shown that diets high in fatty fish correlate to lower levels of depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. This is thought to be because omega-3 helps with the production of neurotransmitters that regulate our mood.

2. Whole Grain

Whole grains provide the body with slow releasing energy which helps to keep us fuller for longer. Simple carbohydrates like white pasta cause fast energy release which then causes spikes in blood sugar. This type of activity has been shown in studies to have the same kind of crash effect as drug abuse. So long story short, avoid crashes in energy and mood by staying away from simple carbohydrates.

3. Lean Protein

Lean protein like low-fat beef, turkey, eggs, and chicken are other foods that encourage the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. The many amino acids in lean protein each play a role in balancing our mood. This is because of their effect on serotonin production. Serotonin is our ‘feel’ good hormone and a lack of it in the body has been linked with depression. Serotonin is so vital to our mood it’s even been dubbed ‘nature’s prozac‘.

4. Leafy Greens

We all know we should be eating more greens but they play a vital role in our mental health as well as our waistlines. Leafy greens contain folic acid. A lack of folic acid in our diets has been linked with higher rates of depression. Pregnant women are usually told that they should take some kind of folate supplement to help with their baby’s development. Folic acid has been shown to lower the risk or brain and neural tube effects in developing babies. Pregnant women are told that they should start consuming folic acid even before they try and conceive, so what’s stopping you from consuming more every day? Folic acid is vital for our cell repair and red blood cell generation and so ultimately having a positive effect on our brains.

5. Yogurt

Yogurt can pack a serious punch for our mental health. Recent studies have found a huge link between our gut health and our mental health showing more evidence that food really does affect our mood. The right kind of yogurt contain probiotics which influence healthy gut health. This is essential for the breakdown of nutrients and their proper absorption into the body. It’s important to remember to look for live probiotics and with up brands so that you get a good variety of bacterias. Greek yogurt is a popular choice because it’s also full of protein and tastes delicious with fruit, helping to pack a punch of vitamins with it.

So there are 5 powerful foods that help with mental health and proper brain function. I always think it’s funny how we get taught to eat healthy for our physical health but no one seems to encourage us to eat for our mental health too. With that in mind, here’s a diet that’s being hailed as the best diet for mental health;

A Good Mental Health Diet – Mediterranean!

Diets from countries in the Mediterranean have been shown to be the best for mental health and proper brain function. This is due to the fact that the diets in these countries are mostly plant based, with plenty of fatty fish caught locally and the availability of fresh fruits. Fast-food chains like Burger King and KFC are not as widespread in these countries, and the traditional culture instead influences the generations to eat local foods.

Research undergone by the University of Melbourne selected 1000 women randomly to asses their diets. They found that the women who ate traditional mediterranean diets rich in fruit, fish, nuts and whole grains had less signs of depression and anxiety. The same was not found in their western counterparts. The western women selected in this study who ate simple carbs, trans fats and processed foods showed higher signs in depression, anxiety and general low mood.

This is all common sense, but it doesn’t help if you live in western countries. In countries like the USA and the UK, eating fast food is as much ingrained in the culture as fresh fish and fruit is in countries like Spain. As we eat more and more processed foods with sugar and simple carbs, we become more and more depressed. This is easily then formed into a habit as we get our serotonin from the simple carbs to feel better. The only way to get out of this rut is to surround yourself with the healthy brain foods seen in places such as the Mediterranean.

In a 2014 study, countries were ranked by percentage of depression. To put the above into perspective, the UK had a 10% depression rate whilst Spain had 7% followed by Italy with only 4%.

The idea is to move away from ‘man made’ foods, not only for our figures, but also for our mental health and wellbeing. Ultimately, we need to move towards food that’s made from the ground or caught in the sea with the least amount of processes.

These are the foods that help with our mental health in the long run.

This post was previously published on Projectenergise.com.


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