Updated: Dec 14, 2019
Having experienced anxiety and bouts of depression I can absoluetly say that nutrition plays a role in our mental health and is one of the areas that we can focus on to help minimise symptoms. The way I see it is that we have to give ourselves the best possible chance of overcoming mental health issues such as anxiety and depression and that means utilising a number of strategies – we need to look at anxiety and depression holistically which means we approach it from an emotional/cognitive/behavioural/social sense but also from a biological/physiological sense. I’ll add in spiritual, but that’s for another day! If we hone in on what’s happening from a biological and physiological point of view, we can see that our minds and bodies are very much interconnected, one affecting the other. We know a lot about certain neurotransmitters in the brain and the stomach that are vital for mental health and are impacted by what we put into our bodies. We also know that the gut is like a second brain and signals are transmitted between the gut and the nervous system. Both neurotransmitters and the nervous system play a huge role in mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, and if food impacts on our biochemistry and the function of our nervous system then it makes sense that nutritional medicine plays a role in our state of health, not only physically but mentally too. We wanted to know more and were privileged to have the very knowledgeable Jenna (such a gorgeous soul!) from White Lotus Nutrition on hand to provide some advice around nutrition and its interaction with mental health. Jenna also gave us some really great tips on what to eat and what not to eat for mental health and shared her own philosophy for keeping well in mind, body and soul. You can find Jenna in Brisbane for one on one Consultations! Check out the full interview below…
Rochelle x The Honour Project
Tell us a bit about yourself...how do you honour your own mental health?
I honour my mind's health by "checking in" a few times a day; focusing on how I'm feeling emotionally, and if there's something I could be doing to feel more calm, balanced and present. I have a history of anxiety, so I have a tendency to get quite flustered on busy days or when life gets stressful. In the past I have found it difficult to "switch-off" & stop worrying about all the little things in life (that can often feel like big things!). However I've found that taking a moment to reflect a few times a day has really helped me stay balanced, calmer and happier overall. I also like to nourish my mind everyday with the foods I love, moving my body in ways I love, connecting with people I love and doing what I love!
"Avoid drinking coffee or caffeinated drinks after midday, as these can be over-stimulating, exacerbate anxiety and impact on the body's ability to wind-down naturally for sleep."
How do you see food and nutrition interacting with mental health?
Food and nutrition undoubtedly have a huge impact on mental health. Our bodies need many types of nutrients to grow, heal and function effectively. There are many nutrients that are directly involved in the production of neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin for example) - and if we don't consume enough of these nutrients - our mental health can be greatly affected. Nutrient deficiencies are one aspect in which food and nutrition influences our mental health. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the state of our gut health (and more specifically our gut flora) has a significant impact on our mental health also. Furthermore, I am a big believer in the importance of actually enjoying the foods we eat every day. The key to supporting our mental health through nutrition is to eat nourishing foods that we love, and to take steps to improve our gut health.
What foods should we include in our diet to improve mental health?
Magnesium rich foods for nervous system health/aids sleep and relaxation/overall mental health: Brazil nuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, spinach, legumes (chickpeas, black beans). B vitamin rich foods for nervous system health, energy production and overall mental health: dark leafy vegetables, chicken, eggs, lentils, nuts.
"There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the state of our gut health (and more specifically our gut flora) has a significant impact on our mental health."
What foods should we avoid?
Avoid processed foods with additives, artificial sweeteners and preservatives as these have been shown to negatively affect mood. Limit foods and beverages high in sugars and consume a variety of low GI carbohydrates (vegetables, fruit, and whole-grains) throughout the day instead. This prevents blood sugar spikes and "crashes" throughout the day which can impact on mood, sleep and overall health. Avoid drinking coffee or caffeinated drinks after midday, as these can be over-stimulating, exacerbate anxiety and impact on the body's ability to wind-down naturally for sleep. Avoid consuming foods which you have known food allergies or intolerances to. If you are unsure or suspect you may have food allergies/intolerances, book in to see a Clinical Nutritionist for further investigations and testing.
What are your top five tips for keeping well in mind, body and soul?
1. Sleeping - one of the most important factors for mental health is regular, quality sleep.
2. Eating delicious foods that are rich in nutrients regularly - and keeping on top of our gut health.
3. Establishing daily mindfulness practices.
4. Making time for the things and people we love.
5. Moving our bodies every day in ways that feel GOOD - that could be yoga, dancing around the house to Beyoncé, going for a run, playing outside with the kids - it all counts!
Finish this sentence... “Nutrition is....”
Nutrition is an essential component to mental health and overall wellbeing ❤
Contributor: Jenna Grant, Clinical Nutrition, Founder of White Lotus Nutrition