Your mental health is one of the key players in a happy healthy day to day life. All too often we don’t consider how the foods we eat affect not only our waistlines, but brains and ultimately our mood and wellbeing.
Having learned a lot during my walk on the wrong side of good mental health, I can confidently tell you again and again and again that what you eat and how much you move matters! The science is there and the proof walk and talk among us!
There is a complex and fascinating link between your gut and your brain (the gut-brain axis) that I explain in greater details during 1:1 consultations and in my 4-8 week programs which you can find at www.happyoutnutrition.com
For the sake of simplicity though, let's look at just 3 areas you can make changes in right now, and if you want, or need more info please feel free to get in contact. Mental health can be very personal but the journey to better mental health doesn’t have to be kept private.
Your mental health matters on every level so let's work together to keep it optimal.
Vegetables - they are low in calories, high in vitamins and nutrients essential to brain and gut health, along with fibre to keep you full, while flushing out all the waste products. Also high in antioxidants which help mop up free radicals that can cause damage and increase the rate at which we age, along with certain disease risks.
Fruit - are naturally sweet and a much better alternative to processed treats. High in vitamins like C, potassium and folate, along with antioxidants and fibre (which can also be beneficial in reducing cholesterol). Many have a high water and fibre content, which again can keep you feeling fuller longer as well as hydrated.
Fish - fatty fish like sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring ( think SMASH) are all high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids which contain DHA & EPA. Both are powerful components in fighting depression, reducing inflammation, and preventing some diseases like cardiovascular. Even taking a fish oil or EPA/DHA supplement can be very beneficial when working to improve mental health. I personally use Nordic Naturals Extra Omega 3 as it has a ratio of 3:1 EPA to DHA which has been shown repeatedly to help with depression, anxiety and ADHD among many other benefits to the mind and body.
Beans & Legumes - while your first thought may be gas and bloating, it’s worth testing the waters here as some are less likely to have these affects than others. Lentils and blackeyed peas are easier to digest and would be a good starting point. The pros far outweigh the cons with vitamins, minerals, fibre, flavour and versatility they are a great addition to a few meals a week.
Make Some Swaps:
Whole grains vs White grains - just consider why your bread, pasta and rice are white...because they have been ‘bleached’ as such, and stripped of many of their naturally occurring nutrients. Whole grain bread, pasta, rice, and cereals contain far more vitamins, minerals, and fibre than white ones do, including essential B vitamins which are major factors in brain health. So try choosing a rye, or whole grain bread next time you shop and find one that you can enjoy for the flavour and health perks.
Vegetable Oils - always try to keep saturated fats to a minimum simply put. They are found in many foods naturally and while some sat fats are ok, the amounts we now consume are anything but helpful. Try to move from solid fats like margarine and cooking fats to higher quality liquid ones like olive, coconut, and rapeseed oils. The taste and flavour they add to dishes is very impressive, while providing more health benefits for the brain and cardiovascular system in the long run.
Processed/Packaged vs Homemade - ok I know we aren’t all bakers or chefs and I get that...but choosing to bake a 4 ingredient cookie (see recipe below), ready in 7 min vs eating a high sugar, processed and brain damaging snack from the store is a major win! You can also try swapping a typical chocolate bar like Mars or Dairy Milk for a 70% dark chocolate cocoa version of your choice, you still get taste but with the added benefit of antioxidants and less sugar. I eat 2-3 squares of 80% dark chocolate most days with no guilt!
Carbonated drinks & Juices vs Water - this topic is an article unto itself and you can find many reports that discuss the effects of pop, juice and the sweeteners used in them; but the bottom line here is soda, diet or regular is SO damaging to your brain and body it should be avoided altogether. Pop is high in sugar and diet versions are worse with the now known effects of most sweeteners. To hit it home both diet and regular pop have been shown to impair memory and ability for learning. If I could urge you to make one change out of them all, it would be to stop with pop or soda, whatever you want to call it. Juice is also high in sugar and should not be used to replace eating natural whole fruits. While there may be some natural benefits from the fruits used to make the juice, such as vitamin C and antioxidants, it is always better to choose the fruit vs the drink. Water is simple, pure and essential to your health, something I am sure deep down you may already know. If you’re not sure though, see the link below for a more detailed look at the benefits of water to your whole body, brain included. https://www.happyoutnutrition.com/post/water-your-secret-weapon-to-feeling-awesome
Walk - Just start simple, you don’t need a gym pass, or to run 5k, or even buy new shoes just yet...just start with walking more. 60 minutes of walking a day can dramatically improve your health, especially if you do next to no walking at all right now. Try walking in 20-30 min blocks to start, doing so will keep you energized and shift your mindset to a happier place if you let it. Walking can be a type of moving meditation, which has a host of health benefits mentally and physically. Once you get started try listening to yourself while you walk, you’ll be amazed at where your mind goes when your body is doing something it’s natural designed to do.
Stretch - Again you don’t need to be a yogi to stretch or even touch your toes on the first try. Just start with 5-10 min twice a day, morning and evening to kick-start one of the best health care practices you can have. Stretching reduces stress, calms the mind by releasing endorphins that reduce the perception of pain and stimulates blood flow around the body, which increases the function of all those vital organs that make you tick. It’s a mental break you can take anywhere at any time. When I’m tied to my laptop for the day I make a point of getting up every hour or so, just even for 2 or 3 min and doing movement where I am. Don’t let the perceived opinions of others deter you from this either, encourage coworkers to join in, you’ll all have a better day because of it.
Breath/Meditate - Breath is one of the most powerful tools you have and you probably don’t often consider just how you’re doing it. Breath is our life source and without it we don’t exist, so why not stop to think about how powerful that is and utilize this element of yourself more often. There are many different breathing techniques that can be used for different reasons and I would urge you to look into them and choose the one that best fits your needs. A good place to start is just balance breath, breath in for 4 and out for 4, putting an emphasis on the exhale as this is the breath that helps to reduce stress and calms the mind. Meditation then is where you bring the body and breath together, calming the mind and opening the heart, quite literally physically and emotionally. It is one of the most powerful practices you can learn to use, even if you only give yourself 2-5 a day to start.
For more posts around the mind/body connection in relation to your mental health check out the links below...and remember you’re not alone in your head or on your journey, speak up and reach out!
Happy In leads to Happy Out!
Oatmeal Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies...omg that's a title!
2 ripe bananas mashed up
1 cup rolled oats..start with 3/4 an add as needed
2 heaping tsp of nutter butter of choice
1 handful of chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350, grease a baking sheets with butter or spray
- Mix all ingredients together, adjust the oats and nut butter to get a not to wet or dry consistency
- When happy with the mixture use a spoon to get it onto the pan in whatever sized cookies you want
- Bake for 7-10 min max until just slightly browning, then let cool and enjoy
Start to finish these shouldn't take more than 12 min once you get your measurements right!