The food we eat plays an immense role in our mental-emotional wellness.
For optimal mental health, it’s best to eat a diet rich in nutrient-dense whole foods. These foods provide the body with vitamins, minerals, and other key nutrients that support a healthy mood.
Fresh vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats support a healthy digestive system, which nourishes the gut-brain axis. The gut microbiome is the collection of diverse bacteria and yeast in the intestines and other parts of the body. These beneficial bacteria influence inflammatory pathways and generate brain chemicals that directly influence our mood and digestion. Maintaining a healthy and thriving microbiome through positive food choices is central for mental health.
Here are five specific nutrient-based recommendations to support a healthy gut-brain axis and mental-emotional state.
Include protein with every meal
Consistent protein intake helps to keep blood sugar balanced throughout the day. Most people have experienced a sugar crash at some point in their lives. After the initial energy burst of a high carbohydrate meal, blood sugar drops. Consequently, people often experience fatigue, irritability, reduced mental clarity, anxiety, and carbohydrate cravings.
By limiting refined sugars and including quality protein with our meals, we directly improve our blood sugar regulation and feel the mental-emotional stability that comes with it. Food sources of quality protein include fish, shellfish, eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, beans, tempeh, lentils, hummus, nuts, seeds, and nut butters.
Eat plenty of omega 3 fats
Omega 3 fats are one of the top beneficial nutrients that we can give to our bodies. They are anti-inflammatory and benefit many systems in the body, including the gut, skin, heart, brain, and immune system.
Inflammation is a major factor in compromised mental health, and omega 3 fats positively shift various inflammatory pathways in the body. Food sources of omega 3 fats include wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, ground flaxseed, and chia seeds.
Ensure adequate Vitamin D
Vitamin D is incredibly important for mood, bone health, and immune function. Our bodies generate vitamin D from sun exposure. Thus, spending regular time outside is a vital lifestyle factor for mental health. Food sources of vitamin D include wild salmon, sardines, mushrooms and pasture-raised eggs.
Emphasize fresh colorful vegetables and fruit
Fresh veggies and fruit are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that benefit our mood and overall health. These colorful nutrient-dense foods tend to be anti-inflammatory as well.
A variety of diverse produce is most important, and some options include spinach, kale, chard, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, ginger, and berries.
Include dietary fiber
Fiber is important for maintaining healthy digestion and supporting the gut-brain axis. Beneficial gut bacteria within our microbiome feed on the soluble fiber we eat, allowing them to perform various functions relating to digestive and mental health.
Fiber-rich foods that support a healthy microbiome include ground flaxseed, beans, lentils, avocados, broccoli, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, apples, and oats.
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