What is the link between nutrition and mental health?
One of the most under recognised factors in the area of mental health is nutrition. Just like the rest of the body, the brain requires nutrients, especially essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and water, to remain healthy. An integrated approach equally reflecting the interplay of biological, as well as the psychological, emotional and social factors of mental health, is vital. Diet is a cornerstone of this integrated approach.
Research in the fields of neuroscience and nutrition show that people who eat a diet of modern processed foods have increased levels of depression, anxiety, mood swings, hyperactivity, and a wide variety of other mental and emotional problems.
The correct balance of macronutrients, protein, fats and carbohydrates, is critical to health, including that of the brain.
Good quality protein provides the building blocks (amino acids) for neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that calm us and keep our outlook positive.
People who are lacking in key amino acids can experience weakness, moodiness, and increased anxiety or signs of depression for this reason. Protein also helps balance blood glucose, further preventing mood changes, irritability and cravings that can occur due to fluctuating blood sugar levels.
A diet too reliant on refined carbohydrates like white pasta and rice, cakes and biscuits, and of course sugar, as well as an over reliance on carbohydrates in general, raise blood sugars, and disturb hormone balance.
Healthy fats are critical for brain and overall health. They are the backbone of our hormones, and our brain consists of 80% fat.