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A crap diet is no good for your mental health.

There, I said it.  It’s something that seems like common sense and has certainly had a lot of airplay in alternative health fields but it is only just recently being proven by science.  Scroll straight down for the geeky bits.

Now that we all know the effect that diet has on our physical health, it’s great that the attention is now turning towards how diet can also affect our mental health.  I really don’t think that there is just one way of eating that is right for everyone, as you are beautifully and uniquely you.  However, there are some simple strategies to keep in mind and they basically follow my number one rule – JUST EAT REAL FOOD.

 

4 tips to eat your way to happy

1. Avoid processed foods

Please…for so many reasons!  There are ingredients in those foods that could well be deemed chemical warfare!  Seriously, ALL those additives are just plain wrong.  Pretty much if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.  Worst of all of these additives are the known neuro (brain) toxins such as aspartame and MSG.  These neurotoxins are also known as excitotoxins – because they excite neuronal cells until they die!  Definitely no good for mental health.

2. Feed your gut bugs

We are learning so much more about the gut-brain connection at the moment, just as we learned about the importance of our gut bugs a few years earlier.  Let’s put two and two together and realise that improving our gut flora will ultimately improve our mental health.

That means consuming good probiotics regularly, such as fermented foods or quality supplements.  It also means consuming PREbiotics regularly as well.  This is the food for those little gut bugs who need a fibre-rich diet to do all the good work that they do. Not just any fibre, these guys need indigestible fibre so that it reaches them in good order way down in your large intestine. Think vegetables, but in particular onion, garlic, leeks, artichokes and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower.  Also, avoid processed foods (see point 1) as these can alter the balance of gut bugs and some artificial ingredients such as emulsifiers can actually weaken the gut lining.

3. More omega 3s

When you consider that your brain is actually 60% fat, it kind of makes sense to include some good quality fats in your diet to keep our brain (and you) happy.  ‘Good quality’ are the key words here – good quality Omega 3s are what we’re after.  You’ll find these fats in oily fish, walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds.  When it comes to fish, I would advise you to stick to local, wild-caught fish.  The jury’s still out a bit with fresh salmon as far as I’m concerned.  Most of what we buy is farmed and often fed on artificial pellets.  Sometimes the flesh has even been dyed to be a brighter orange.  Great alternatives are mackerel, sardines, bream and even kingfish and trevally.

4. Nutrient dense – think tryptophan, B6, Zinc

Your clever body can create its own feel-good hormones and endorphins, but only if you supply the raw materials. Tryptophan is an amino acid that your body uses to make serotonin and can be found in pork, chicken, seeds and walnuts.

Also, you can support your body’s synthesis of the relaxing neurotransmitter, GABA by increasing foods rich in Vitamin B6 and zinc, such as whole grains, beef liver, almonds, spinach, lentils and walnuts.

 

So there you go, all the latest tips from experts in the field of Nutritional Psychiatry (yes, it’s an actual field!  See below).  Everything you need to know to help you eat your way to happy.

 

The science

The good news is that Australia is currently leading the way when it comes to nutritional psychiatry research.  In fact, the only research institute of its kind is The Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University.  The Director is our very own Aussie gal, Professor Felice Jackson, who led the research team into a study of diet and depression.  They found that the mental health of a group of adults following a Mediterranean diet significantly improved when compared to their counterparts in the control group

The link to that study and more below.

A randomised control trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the SMILES trial)

Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry

Deakin University’s Food and Mood Centre

International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research

Essential fatty acids and human brain