Nutrition and Mental Health – Slow and Steady Wins the Race

We’ve all heard the saying time and time again, “you are what you eat”.

When I was younger and had a much more forgiving metabolism, my response was always “I haven’t turned into a pizza yet so I’m fine.”

My understanding was purely based around the physical downside of a poor diet with no care or comprehension as to how it affected my mental health. That was until I began suffering from depression in my late 20’s.

3 million Australians suffer from anxiety or depression.

Depression and anxiety presents differently for everybody. For me, some of the major side effects were an absence of energy, lack of care about the long term health of my body and an inability to perform daily tasks such as eating.

Things like brushing my teeth and showering became difficult, so preparing healthy organic meals was out of the question, until I realised I needed to cut myself some slack. 

Mental health, just like physical health takes time. I liken it to expecting to land a role as CEO straight out of university. It’s unrealistic and puts more pressure on the heavy burdens we already struggle with.

Healthy eating gives you more energy, helps you sleep better and reduces stress, which all contribute to better mental health. The brain accounts for 20% of our total daily energy requirements so it requires a lot of fuel to function.

Start small with these food tips:

Drink more water

Our brains are made up of about 75% water, so when we dehydrate ourselves, the brain slows down and alters how we think and feel. It’s the first warning signal that something is wrong. Dehydration can also impact on our cognitive function making it harder to manage unwelcome feelings.

I purchased a 2L refillable bottle as I found the effort required to get up and fill up my cup was too much at times, but I could easily sip at my bottle all day.

Find a source of omega 3

Omega 3 is great for brain function, and helps circulate serotonin and dopamine which keeps our mind healthy. It is also widely believed to have anti-inflammatory effects on our bodies with some studies suggesting this extends to the part of the brain linked with depression.

Adding fish to you diet is a fantastic source of omega 3 oils, however if you don’t like the taste of fish, fish oil tablets can be purchased over the counter. It’s best to consult your doctor before taking any supplements as they may interact with other medication.

Make friends with fruits and veggies

Fruits and vegetables are the easiest way to boost your nutrient count and immune system. Despite what Instagram says, you don’t need to have a smoothie bowl filled with ingredients you can’t pronounce to be healthy.

Start small. Purchase fruits and vegetables that require no prep time such as:

  • Bananas – vitamin C and potassium
  • Berries – loaded with antioxidants, high in fiber, vitamin C and vitamin K
  • Oranges – vitamin C, thiamine, folate, fiber and antioxidants
  • Nuts – walnuts contain high amounts of omega 3, pistachios are high in fiber and Brazil nuts are a rich source of selenium
  • Dried fruit and frozen fruit – keeps longer than fresh fruits but be aware of added sugars and preservatives
  • Eggs – high quality proteins, riboflavin and vitamin D
  • Tuna – omega 3, protein and vitamin D
  • Cheese slices – calcium, protein, vitamin A and B12
  • Dark chocolate – high in iron, antioxidants, magnesium and zinc

Mental health can seem like a mountain, but small changes make a huge difference over time.

Be kind to yourself and remember, everything in moderation.

Learn about the 5 building blocks of food.

If you or somebody you know if struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental illnesses, contact the below services for more information and support.

Lifeline

Counselling services for anyone at anytime.

Phone 13 11 14

beyondblue

Information and referral for depression and anxiety.

Phone 1300 224 636

Parentline

Support, counselling and education for parents.

Phone 1300 301 300

ARAFMI

Support for family, friends and carers of people with mental illness.

Phone 1800 351 881

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