Mental disorders, particularly depression, account for the highest burden of global disability. Half of mental illnesses first manifest prior to 14 years of age and childhood disorders are linked to a range of long-term deleterious social, criminal and economic outcomes in adulthood. Despite an increase in the recognition and treatment of depression and anxiety, new data from around the globe suggest that rates may be increasing, rather than decreasing, particularly in young people.
Common brain-friendly foods
- Dark chocolate
How to Eat In A Brain-Boosting Way
On the Regular
Stick to three meals a day and one or two snacks, or have four or five smaller meals. When meals are eaten on an irregular basis, the result can be poor concentration, irritability and moodiness. As well, this kind of eating can cause you to undereat or overeat and lose touch with feelings of hunger and fullness, she explains. Since anxiety and depression can cause changes in appetite, it’s important to be connected to these feelings.
In the Mix
It’s important to eat a wide variety of foods. For this reason, she recommends staying away from crash or restrictive diets. Carbs (for glucose), protein (for amino acids), healthy fats and vitamins are essential and work together, and you can only get what you need by eating different types of foods. The B-vitamins that are important for brain health are water soluble, which means that our bodies don’t store them, so we have to replenish them. The good news is that B vitamins are widely available. Try ground flaxseed for vitamin B1, soy or eggs for vitamin B12, bananas or tuna for vitamin B6, and edamame or spinach for vitamin B9.
People living with depression or anxiety may not feel good about themselves some days. Many hope that changing their diets or bodies may change how they feel, so they’ll deprive themselves of nutrients, or they may feel unworthy and not practice self-care. Be compassionate and patient with yourself, and make a point of trying to eat at least one food you love to get through hump day.
Consider Your Caffeine
You could try swapping out one of your regular coffees or teas for a smoothie made with flaxseed oil (for omega-3s), Greek yogurt (for protein) and your favorite fruit (perhaps papaya, which is a good source of folate).
Sharing is Caring
Think of ways to make your meals more social. Host a potluck, invite your best friend out for a meal or start a work lunch club, where everyone takes turns bringing a dish to share. If some of your loved ones are housebound, make a point of visiting them to eat together. When people eat alone, they may be less likely to eat a variety of foods because they lack the motivation to make an enjoyable meal or don’t make eating a priority.
It’s a Plan
Eating a varied and regular diet is easier if you have a plan. Think about what you can do to create a routine for meal planning, cooking and grocery shopping. Don’t be too ambitious, Start with what you have and slowly build on it. Having a plan will also help when you feel less able to manage. With depression, a lot of people lose their motivation to get up and engage with their day. With a major depressive disorder, people may not feel like they want to cook, grocery shop or eat, so they eat repetitive things. With anxiety, people may engage in emotional eating or may not eat at all as a way to cope when they feel overwhelmed. If you are struggling, seek help. There’s no need to do this alone.
Build your nourishment toolbox by trying out a new dish or ingredient today. For a snack, consider pistachios, which are packed with B vitamins (vitamin B6, folate and thiamine, to be exact) and high in the amino acid tryptopha. Or give sunflower seeds, which are a source of vitamin B6 and amino acids, a go. You may already eat quinoa, which contains all of the essential amino acids, but how about amaranth? This versatile pseudo-cereal is high in protein and can be part of a salad, popped like popcorn or added to baked goods and soups. Or, try a new-to-you seafood. Mussels contain protein, thiamine and vitamin B12 and can be enjoyed steamed on their own, as part of a carb-rich pasta dish or in a stew.
Start by paying attention to how eating different foods can make you feel. Not just how they feel hitting your taste buds, but how they make you feel a few hours later or the next day. Experiment with a healthy diet for three to four weeks. Cut out the processed and sugar-laden foods and replace them with healthy alternatives. See how you feel. If you feel great, you might be onto something. If you feel more alert, are in a better mood, and have more energy, you are definitely on to something. Then slowly introduce foods back into your diet and see how you feel. This will be the “aha moment” when you realize how critical nutrition is for your mental health and truly realize that premium fuel is the best fuel for your brain.
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