Nutrition for Mental Health
When you are an exhausted mum with a young family, nutrition can so easily become a huge challenge due to lack of time, money, and energy.
Here is a really simple guide to the key nutrients that have been shown to help lift our mood, and proven to help boost our happy hormone levels.
Sometimes by making some small changes in our diet, we can make small steps towards helping lift us from the space we are in. Just do one bit at a time, accepting each day may bring different challenges. You are all only human, you can only do so much. Be kind to yourself and, when you can, see if boosting your diet with some of these essential nutrients can help nourish your body, your mind and your overall well- being.
Jennifer McDiarmid, Nutritional Therapist
Jennifer runs a private practice providing individual and family consultations in nutritional therapy and NLP coaching.
A simple guide to boosting nutrients
The B Vitamins
The B Complex vitamins are essential to mental and emotional well-being. These vitamins are known as water soluble vitamins, which means that we excrete them in our urine and therefore need a good daily supply as they cannot be stored in the body.
The B vitamins can be easily depleted by alcohol, refined sugars, nicotine, and caffeine so it is no surprise that many people may be deficient in these.
The different B vitamins all have a slightly different role in the body, but they all contribute to turning the food we eat into energy our body can use; without the need for sugar and coffee to keep us going. They help with the production of key hormones – including the feel good hormones, as well as with cognitive function.
These are found in a wide range of foods so eating a very varied and healthy diet should ensure you are getting the B Vitamins you need. Make sure you are eating a good supply of wholegrains, meats, and vegetables. If you decide to have a Vitamin B supplement, make sure you get one that is well balanced as the B vitamins work together so you need to have a balance of them.
Zinc may be little but it is very powerful in the human body. Did you know it is a component of more than 200 enzymes in our bodies and is involved in more enzymatic reaction than any other mineral! Pretty impressive hey?
The highest amount of zinc in the body is found in our brains, particularly in a part of our brain called the hippocampus. Zinc deficiency can lead to symptoms of depression as well as being linked to difficulties with learning and memory, seizures, aggression and violence.
Another little fact about zinc is that its absorption is greatly depleted when an individual is stressed! With the pressures put on us each day and the long hours people are working, it is no wonder this little wonder can be deficient in our bodies.
Oysters, pumpkin seeds, ginger root, pecans, split peas, brazil nuts, whole wheat, Rye, Oats, Peanuts, almonds and walnuts.
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin and the main source is from the sunshine – not easy during the winter months! Although it is mostly known for the absorption of calcium, there is now a lot of research into Vitamin D and depression.
Although the exact way it works is still being investigated, research has shown that vitamin D acts on the part of the brain linked with emotional stability and depression.
Food sources of vitamin D are limited, although many foods such as cereal are fortified with it as well as egg yolks, oily fish and cheese. The best way to get Vitamin D can be through sunshine or through a supplement during the winter months.
Selenium is part of an antioxidant enzyme called glutathione peroxidase (don’t worry you don’t need to remember that). It works with vitamin E in preventing damage to the membranes of our cells from things called free radicals. Just like with vitamin D, there is more research going into the exact link between selenium and depression; although there are increasing numbers of research studies that are showing a strong connection between low levels of selenium and depression.
Beans, legumes, lean meats, nuts, seeds, seafood and wholegrains.
This is an amino acid – a building block of protein. It plays many vital roles in the body. One of its most important ones is it is the starting point in the manufacturing of the neurotransmitters of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is the hormone that is involved in different processes in the body, but is best known as the ‘feel good’ hormone. Serotonin can then go on and become converted to melatonin, which is the hormone that helps us to go to sleep at night.
The best way to increase your levels of serotonin and melatonin is to support how our bodies make tryptophan, as without it, serotonin and melatonin levels will not increase (a bit like trying to make a cake without having all your ingredients there).
The reason people can become deficient in this very important amino acid is because compared to the other amino acids, it is found in the smallest number of foods, therefore if you have a limited diet you may be lacking in this nutrient.
Turkey, milk, cottage cheese, chicken, eggs, red meats, soya, tofu, and nuts especially almonds.
This is also an amino acid, that when it enters the brain is converted into the neurotransmitter dopamine, and then in turn is converted to noradrenaline. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that controls brain reward and pleasure centre and helps to regulate emotional response.
To make sure we are getting enough tyrosine in our bodies, it is important to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants which are hugely beneficial to the health of our cells, but also help to protect tyrosine and ensure it is absorbed in the body.
Increased levels of noradrenaline can lead to increased energy, alertness and improved mood.
Almonds, avocados, bananas, dairy, seeds, meat and poultry.
This is an extremely important mineral. Next to potassium it is the most abundant mineral within our cells. Nearly 60 per cent of magnesium is found in the bone, and the rest in the soft tissue and fluid. The main role of magnesium is its ability to activate many enzymes, and maintain the electrical charge of cells, especially those in muscle and nerve cells. It is also involved in many cellular functions including energy production, protein formation and cellular respiration. Symptoms of deficiency include mental confusion, irritability, and weakness.
Whole grains, nuts especially almonds and cashew nuts, dried fruit, tofu and vegetables.
Essential fatty acids
The essential fatty acids, particularly omega 3 are essential for good brain function. They work on the synaptic cleft which is the junction between axons in the brain which transmit messengers. If these are not functioning properly, the messengers fail to get transmitted efficiently which can lead to, amongst other things, low mood and memory loss.
Oily fish, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and their oils and butters.
So how do we get these superfoods into our diets?
The best way is to eat a varied diet, and where possible cook from scratch so you know the ingredients are fresh and therefore will have the highest nutritional value. If you can, make soups or slow cooker stews where you are eating the liquid the foods are cooked in ensuring none of the nutrients are being missed out.
A great rule of thumb when it comes to making sure you are eating as many different nutrients as possible is to have half your plate made up from vegetables and the rest from protein, carbohydrates, essential fats and dairy. The more colour on your plate the more varied the nutrients you will be getting!
If you are concerned about not getting enough of these essential nutrients or have a specific health condition then you can also get these through a good multivitamin supplement. For more advice on these, please message me and I would be happy to answer any questions that you have.
As well as looking at these foods, remember to make sure you are keeping your body really hydrated with plenty of water each day to help cleanse it and flush out any unwanted toxins.
Another way to really help boost good feeling is to get those trainers on and take yourself out for a walk in the fresh air to get the endorphins going. Living in and around Cirencester we are incredibly lucky with all the amazing walks that can be done, and (weather permitting) help improve low mood and get us fit at the same time