BY Tara Baker
We all know that food affects how we feel and how we look. But can food improve your mental health?
Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through to adulthood. It helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make daily choices. Just as we have foods to support our gut health, our brain, like other organs requires enough vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to protect us from stress, anxiety, depression and impaired brain function.
Eating nutrient-dense foods rich in vitamins, healthy fats, antioxidants and minerals doesn’t just fuel us in a purely physical way, it helps us grow new brain cells, warding off illnesses such as depression and dementia.
Here are 10 brain foods that play a key role in mental health to add to your diet.
1 cup of lentils contains a whopping 90% of your daily recommended intake of folate - a vitamin responsible for regulating DNA and producing neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine to regulate your mood, sense of pleasure and clarity. Plus, lentils are a hefty source of magnesium, a mineral responsible for stimulating brain growth and controlling blood sugar.
The avocado is full of healthy monounsaturated fats which help lower blood pressure and support cognitive function. Not only is it a healthy fat of course, but it’s delicious!
It’s no surprise that fermented foods make for a happy gut, but you may be surprised to learn that probiotic-rich foods also support brain function. In fact, bacteria in the gut produces two essential neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine. But be careful. Not all yoghurts are made equal. Make sure to avoid the pre-sweetened varieties at the grocery store and opt for unflavoured types instead. Not convinced yoghurt is delicious without all that sugar? Try adding your own natural sweeteners such as honey or berries.
This fatty fish makes us happy thanks to its high concentration of nervonic acid (a monounsaturated fat), and omega-3 (a polyunsaturated fat) both of which help insulate and stimulate brain cells. When you aren’t getting enough omega 3 fatty acids, you can experience memory problems, fatigue and poor focus. Not only does salmon increase your focus and allow you to better absorb information, but it can also help fight depression and anxiety.
The high concentration of Vitamin K in this dark green leafy vegetable ensures your brain receives oxygen and helps insulate brain cells. Get creative and add a handful of the good stuff to your next smoothie.
This super spice gets its signature yellow hue from curcumin, a potent anti-inflammatory ingredient that prevents plaque buildup in the brain. Tumeric latte anyone?
These deep red root vegetables are chock-full of natural nitrates to boost blood flow to the brain and improve cognitive performance.
This divisive, cruciferous vegetable is an essential source of choline, a nutrient that boosts your mood, energy and focus while improving memory. It has also been shown to prevent cognitive decline by regulating inflammation. So, while a lot of people LOVE broccoli (myself included) we also know that there are plenty of haters out there. Perhaps it’s worth giving the little green trees another shot?
This kitchen staple contains hydroxytyrosol, a phythonutrient prized for its ability to protect the lining of blood vessels and oxygen supply to the brain. For an extra nutritional boost, use extra virgin olive oil in salad dressings or dips.
This bold herb is a fragrant source of antioxidant-rich phytonutrients which help enhance memory and concentration by facilitating blood flow to the brain.
Brodie Gardner has a Masters in Exercise Physiology, Honours in Sports Science and competes as a professional triathlete. He has a long history working with elite athletes and has provided consultation services to numerous Australian sporting associations.