In celebration of Mental Health week, I decided to put together this post about how the foods we eat can have a major effect on our mental wellbeing. Good nutrition isn’t only important for our physical health – it plays a big role in how we think and feel.
The nervous system is quite the complex beast. It has three primary functions – sensory output, integration (interpretation and determining the appropriate response), and motor output. It is divided into the central nervous system (CNS), consisting of the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system (PNS), which consists of the sensory nerves that carry messages to the spine, and the motor nerves that carry messages away from the spine. In order for our nervous system to function optimally, we need to make sure we are providing it with the right nutrients. Failure to do so will cause deficiencies and that, in turn, will lead to symptoms, which may include:
· Poor concentration
Sometimes, the best thing we can do for our mental health is replenish our bodies with the nutrients our nervous system craves. Here are some very important nutrients to help keep your nervous system balanced and in check, which can reduce or eliminate your symptoms.
There are a few different B vitamins that our body needs to work at its best. They all like to work together as a team to make us feel great. (Nothing better than teamwork!) These B’s help us maintain a healthy nervous system by helping to repair and maintain our brain’s neurotransmitters. If you are feeling stressed out, you may have a vitamin B deficiency. To make sure you are getting your dose of B vitamins, feed your body some of these vitamin B-rich foods:
· Brown rice
· Leafy greens
Choline is super important, as it is needed to make up the myelin sheath, which keeps our nerves cozy and insulated. Choline is also very beneficial for nerve transmission. Here are some choline-rich foods to help make your nerves feel cozy and at home:
· Collard greens
Having the right amount of calcium is important for nerve transmission, but don’t forget to balance it out with magnesium. Magnesium helps regulate calcium in the body. When looking for a good source of calcium, I recommend staying away from dairy products and sticking to whole foods. Dairy products are filled with sugars, which can become acidic in the body. Calcium, an alkaline mineral, is what our body uses to counteract this acidity, so consuming dairy – despite what we have all been told – can actually actively deplete our bodies’ calcium stores. Rather than reaching for the milk, grab these calcium-rich foods:
· Sesame seeds
· Mustard greens
Magnesium is another important nutrient to help with nerve transmission and conductivity. It helps regulate calcium, and magnesium deficiency has been demonstrated to be associated with depression and anxiety-like behaviour. Here are some foods rich in magnesium to include in your diet:
· Dark chocolate
· Pumpkin seeds
· Black beans
Essential Fatty Acids
There are two types of essential fatty acids (EFA’s) – omega-3 and omega-6. These fatty acids need to be obtained from food, as our bodies do not synthesize them. (Hence the word ‘essential’!) EFA’s protect your brain and are needed for proper neurological function. Low consumption of EFA’s from fish has been associated with low serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved with our mood – it makes us feel good! Fill up on some foods rich in essential fatty acids to get your mood heading in the right direction. Here are a few:
· Chia seeds
· Brussels sprouts
These amazing nutrients are a great way to get started at bringing balance back to your nervous system. You can also get these nutrients in supplement form – just be sure you are picking a good quality supplement, free from GMO’s, fillers, and additives. (Visiting a health food store is your best option.) If you are taking any medications, be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist.
Let’s all eat to our mental health!
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