Mental health refers to the behavioral, emotional and cognitive well-being of an individual. What we eat affects not just our physical health but our mental health also. When it comes to the Diet, most people’s concerns involve weight loss, fitness, cardiac health and longevity. But what we eat affects more than our bodies; it also affects our brains.
What we eat is directly related to way we think or feel. A healthy diet is protective and crucial for brain development. It puts brain into a growing mode. Eating a well balanced diet rich in macronutrients and micronutrients may be associated with feeling of well-being. For example,certain nutrients and dietary patterns are linked to changes in brain proteins that help increase connections between the brain cells.
On the other hand diet rich in saturated fats and refined sugar harms brain protein. An unhealthy diet is a risk factor for the brain and may lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health diseases. The relationship between our diet and our mental health is complex.
When mental health is affected the root cause is not only brain, maybe a signal leading to that there might be some infections darting through your blood stream , which can make you feel stressed, depressed or something like you have lost your mind. The central nervous system produces chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and acetylcholine that are important for regulating mood thought feeling and emotions. When we consume any medicines, chemicals get transmitted to the brain be it with food or from medicines.
Having a healthy digestive system, in general ensures to absorb vitamins, minerals, nutrients our brain needs to thrive. When you feel stressed or anxious, you feel it in your gut. Your digestion may speedup or slow down, depending upon how you are feeling. Your gut can also affect immunity and resilience to stress. This is where your gut health is involved in your mental health.
How your brain is connected with your gut , some people will be surprised , why I am saying so, as both are way apart and different organs of the body. Brain Gut connection is like life Partners. If we eat healthy and good food our stomach releases enzymes we feel happy and this happy hormones gives signals to the brain.
A healthy and balanced diet fills the gut with healthy bacteria, which fights back with bad germs and keep your immune system in check. High fat and high sugar diet is bad for gut health, which will further affect the brain and leads to mood swings, cognition impairment, chemical imbalance, etc. Signals also travel in the opposite direction, such that your mental and emotional states affect your gut function.
Serotonin is an important chemical that has a wide variety of functions in your body. Often called as “second brain”, our digestive system produces over 90% of all Serotonin in our body. So maintaining your gut health is essential. Serotonin impacts your levels of mood, anxiety, sleep and appetite in your bodies. Low levels of this chemical may lead to anxiousness, depression, panic, phobia, mental obsessions, worry, pain and your sleep cycle might get disturbed.
Again if you are in bad mood, or you had a stressed day or a minor fight, it will not only impact your mood but also affects your gut health bacteria, your digestion. Minute changes in your digestion can cause havoc to your brain.
Gut health is important and related to stress. In male, if there is any kind of stress, testosterone hormone will be disturbed and there might be weight increase in abdominal area, that’s why males have “Stomach pouch or Tond”. In female, if you are in stress, your estrogen hormone will be disturbed and weight gain in hip area, abdominal and breast area. As these hormones are responsible to carry fats in the body, if they are disturbed fats will not be able to travel freely, which leads to weight gain.
Good and healthy food is good mood or vice versa we can simply say good mood leads to eating good and healthy food, classic example is any celebration; birthday, wedding, anniversary, kitty party , success party or any other happy occasion that calls for celebrations that includes variety of food, which shows different culture and tradition also. Different variety of food served during these celebrations boost and activates your mind in a positive way.
Four strong pillars of healthy mental health
- Healthy and balanced diet: Mindful eating is powerful tool to gain control of your eating. It is a kind of meditation that helps you recognize and cope with your emotions and physical sensations. It is also been shown to promote weight loss, reduce binge eating and help you feel better.
Mindful eating is about using mindfulness to reach a state of full attention to your experiences, cravings and physical cues when eating. Have healthy, balanced meals. Incorporate plenty of fibre in the diet like whole grains, whole pulses, vegetables, fruits. Drink lots of liquids in the form of fresh lime water, fresh juices, coconut water, fresh soups, lassi, butter milk, milkshakes, green tea, kawah besides water.
Fermented foods like idli, dhokla, dosa, fermented roti can give the good bacteria in your gut a boost. Include Rainbow colours of food in your diet, as they are rich in antioxidants. Include omega 3 fatty acids like fish, coconut. Avoid too much of junk foods like pasta, noodles, burgers, French fries, fried foods like samosa, kachori, poori, paranthas, aerated drinks like cold drinks, canned juices , fruits and soups, cocktails.
Limit your intake of processed foods, fast foods, commercial bakery goods and sweets. Don’t skip any meals. Long gaps should be avoided. Stay away from the gadgets like mobile, laptops as you will not be able to focus on what you are eating. Listen to soothing music while eating. Love what you eat. Involve family members in the cooking as this is the only activity or therapy where all five senses are used. When all five senses work together, your happy hormones secrete. Food is an Art, and the more you cook, the more you become creative.
- Exercise:It should be an important part of your daily routine. You should exercise for 20 to 30 minutes in day. Walk every day, at least try to walk 6000 to 8000 steps every day. Engage yourself in some physical activity like swimming, aerobics, playing games like badminton, table tennis, basketball, football, yoga etc at least twice in a week, it will help your mind to be active and alert.
The more you do physical activity, more you are burning calories, detoxifying your body, blood flow is smooth, maintaining your weight. Join laughter club, as laughing helps to release stress from your body. Also in this way you can have a discipline life.
- Quality sleep: You should have a quality and sound sleep for 7 to 8 hours in a day. Every day your body’s thousands of cells, tissues break and tear. Your body has got inbuilt phenomena of tissue and cell wear and tear, new cells and tissues are generated, but this happens only when you have a sound sleep. Your mind and body is relaxed during sleep. Your body is at rest, rejuvenating and making you ready for the next following day.
There should be a gap of at least 2 hours between dinner and sleep. Avoid consuming caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee during late evenings as it will hinder your sleep cycle. Avoid fried foods, rich foods, acidic foods, too much quantity of food at night to avoid acidity, bloating, heaviness. Meditation for 10 to 15 mins is important before sleeping, as it will help to relax nerves, mind and body.
- Emotional wellness: To keep your mental health healthy, your emotional wellness is important. Stay away from emotional dramas and negative people around you. Don’t watch any kind of T.V programs or news which can make you stressed, sad, restless. Instead watch comedy serials, cartoons, songs, dance programs, cooking shows.
At the same time, you need to engage yourself in some therapies or hobbies which will make you happy and busy at the same time. For example: gardening, cooking, listening music, watching your favorite programs, reading, knitting, etc. In this way you are doing something creative, positive thoughts are going into your brain, you are doing something new. At the end of the day you may be contented that you had a fruitful day.
According to Uma Naidoo, MD, Nutritional psychiatrist, there are some Brain Foods, which everyone should be aware of and must consume.
B: Berries and beans (different kind)
R: Rainbow clolours of fruits and vegetables
I: Include lean proteins and plant- based proteins
N: Nuts (almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts and cashews)
F: Fibre rich foods, fish, fermented foods
O: Oils (peanut, pure, mustard)
O: Omega 3 rich foods
D Dairy (milk and milk products, curd , paneer, cheese)
S: Spices (haldi, jeera,loung, dalchini)
Recent studies have shown that diet can have profound impact on mental health conditions ranging from ADHD to depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, OCD, dementia and beyond. Have a healthy and balanced Diet to overcome these mental issues.