It really is true that we are what we eat, and that the foods we enjoy and consume on a daily basis have a huge influence on our mental health, how we feel and experience life. The recipe for mindfulness starts with the ingredients we consume and the foods we love. And when we love the right foods, they love us right back.
Today we’re celebrating the tastiest benefits of the most loving ingredients, revealing the ingredients that should be at the top of your shopping list to inspire ultimate wellbeing, and shelving the ingredients that you and your mental health should be avoiding.
Mouthfuls for mindfulness
Getting straight into it, here are five of the best ingredients for boosting mental health:
1. Brilliant berries
When the season’s just right, berries, including blueberries, blackberries and strawberries, provide the perfect place to start when looking for a mindfulness boost. Not only are berries all-natural, versatile and delicious but they’re also packed with antioxidants and flavonoids.
Antioxidants and flavonoids provide a range of different mental health-affirming benefits to the brain. Together they promote better cognitive function by increasing blood flow and reducing inflammation. However, they’re also extremely valuable to the area of the brain that concerns neuroplasticity, which is essentially its ability to adapt to and manage new changes.
2. Anything green
Never ever forget to eat your vegetables! Any kind of leafy green, like spinach, broccoli and kale is like bees to honey in terms of their mental health benefits. Not only are these types of ingredients completely unique in terms of their nutrients, but gram for gram, they’re unmatched in their levels of vitamins, antioxidants and folate, which together are a must for great mental health.
Let’s take this last one as an example. Greens are naturally packed with a B-vitamin called folate. Folate is integral to the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain like serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, which help the brain to work better, regulate mood and manage emotions. It’s then not surprising that a lack of folate has been routinely observed in those going through depression or impaired cognitive function.
3. Forward with fermented
Happy gut, happy life. There really is a lot of truth in these words, and it’s why eating anything fermented is bound to take your mental health to new heights. There are a lot of popular and easily accessible options available in this respect, including things like kimchi, kefir and yoghurt, and they all contain beneficial bacteria called probiotics that have an overwhelmingly positive impact on the health of the gut.
Now, we hear you, what’s a healthy gut got to do with mental health? It all comes down to something called the ‘gut-brain axis’, which is essentially a bidirectional relationship between the brain and the gut where the function of one can affect the function of the other. When fermented food delivers probiotics to the gut, it enables it to better produce neurotransmitters, including that serotonin we mentioned before, which engage with the brain to allow us to feel better and manage emotions with greater ease. It might not be everyone’s favourite food, but fermented ingredients are a powerful way to ensure that long-lasting feel-good experience.
4. Fishy on a dishy
It would be impossible to list foods that deliver mental health benefits without mentioning the basic staple of fish. Foods like salmon, trout and sardines are all excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and it’s something that a well-functioning brain won’t be able to do without.
Now there are lots of reasons as to why this is, but if we look at it through the lens of mental health, again it comes back to the functionality of these neurotransmitters that help the brain to do what it does. Omega-3 fatty acids support a powerful and unmatched ability to help with the regulation of hormones like serotonin and dopamine. And aside from making us feel better, this provides major benefits to the overall ability of the brain and especially the ability of the brain’s cells to communicate with each other.
5. Dark chocolate
When it comes to ingredients that promote mental health, chocolate is certainly in a league of its own. But it’s not too dissimilar to others on this list. For example, chocolate made with a high cocoa content (70+%) is an underestimated source of the same antioxidants and flavonoids found in benefits, delivering very much the same kind of benefits to mental health.
However, dark chocolate also supports other mood-enhancing properties too. It contains a special compound called phenylethylamine, which when ingested, promotes the release of endorphins. Endorphins are a really natural mood-lifting chemical found in the brain, which unlock feelings of happiness and wellbeing.
Bad foods for bad thoughts
Our list above demonstrates that on a chemical level, there is a whole range of different ingredients that can lift the dark clouds of the mind. But what if we reverse the question? Which food should your mental health be avoiding?
Here are five foods your mental health should be avoiding:
1. Don’t trust the highly processed
For better or worse, please, please, please stay away from foods that are highly processed. Of course, these will be all the meals that your brain will be telling you are the most delicious, like ready meals, fast food and processed meats. These mouthfuls come with lots of added sugars, unhealthy fats and refined carbohydrates, and will come at a high cost to your mental health and overall wellbeing.
These types of food offer little to nothing in the way of nutritional value and contribute massively towards ailments like inflammation and insulin resistance. Although there’s no direct link between processed foods and mental health, it has been observed that these types of meal plans contribute some elements towards a mental health decline.
2. Sugary drinks
When feeling parched, the last thing your mental health wants to quench your thirst is evil sugary drinks. Some of the most popular beverages, energy drinks and fruit juices contain as much as 15 tablespoons of sugar in a typical bottle. On the face of it, consuming this much concentrated sugar is never good, but it really is terrible for your mental health.
Sugary drinks easily cause spikes in the body’s blood sugar level. And what goes up can only come crashing down. Beverages are a leading cause of sugar crashes because they contain unfathomable levels of the sweet stuff. These types of crashes have long been associated with a higher risk of anxiety, depression and impaired brain function, so when possible, always opt for the sugar-free/no added sugar alternatives.
3. Bin the booze
Drinking alcohol is by no means a detriment to mental health, if consumed in moderation. It’s only when alcohol’s consumed excessively that it becomes a problem for mental health. This is because, in essence, alcohol acts as a depressant, slowing the central nervous system and negatively affecting mood, impairing judgement and contributing to feelings of anxiety and depression.
Again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a drink if you choose to have one. However, the links between excessive consumption and mental health decline are unmistakable. In really extreme cases, this relationship can also lead to alcohol-related brain damage, fetal impairment and progressive cognitive decline.
4. The cost of caffeine
This is probably one of the most widely-consumed ingredients on our list. Caffeine is everywhere. There are the obvious ones like coffee, tea and energy drinks, however, caffeine can also be found in things like baked pastries and painkillers. Its benefits improve alertness and ease constipation. However, caffeine comes at a cost to mental health if consumed too liberally.
This is because many of the things we depend on for good mental health are disturbed by their intake. This is clear in the case of sleep, which is of course hugely critical to wellbeing, while caffeine also often exacerbates feelings of anxiety. There’s a balance to observe when enjoying caffeine, and we’d recommend no more than two caffeinated foods/beverages on any given day.
5. Dreaded dairy
This one’s a bit of a grey area, and the link between dairy intake and mental health is still yet to be fully understood. The rising popularity of non-dairy alternatives appears to be fuelled by the gastrointestinal symptoms that often come with ingesting traditional dairy products, including bloating, diarrhoea and intestinal discomfort.
These physical symptoms, which will be more than familiar to those who suffer from lactose intolerance, disrupt many of the healthy processes that support optimal mental health, including many of the important functions of the gut. Physical discomfort in this way goes hand-in-hand with mental health decline and is one to watch out for if you’re looking to look after your wellbeing.
A new recipe for mental health
When looking to boost your mental health and wellbeing, there couldn’t be a better place to start than by changing up your diet. While some foods and ingredients are much more effective at achieving this than others, it’s super important to find the right balance in nutrients.
A good, balanced diet will ultimately prove to be the crucial missing link in discovering a refreshing take on life, and taking all these mood-lifting ingredients into your daily intake will deliver benefits that are unmatched by any other method of delivery.
We see mental health as the foundation stone of a life worth living, and ideas of how to best support it flow freely throughout everything we do.
Discover a new LEVEL to life here.