IMPROVE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH BY IMPROVING THE FOOD ON YOUR PLATE
With tips from CEO and Be Fit Food co-creator, Kate Save
It is well known that eating a healthy diet has incredible physical health benefits, but did you know that there is increasing evidence to suggest there is also a link between what we eat and our mental health?
There is no doubt, when you eat well, you feel well, and studies are proving that there is a direct link between our gut and our brain.
OUR GUT MICROBIOME
The gut is made up of trillions of microorganisms and bacteria that are crucial for digesting the foods we eat, activating our metabolism, and for absorbing nutrients. A healthy gut is made up of a diverse range of bacteria as each type can have different roles and functions. It is important to eat a range of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables and wholegrains to assist with this. Many people don’t realise that our gut is actually like a second brain. In fact, it actually has up to five times more neural connections than our actual brain! Therefore, everything we eat affects our gut, which has a direct link to our brain, and therefore can change the way we think, feel and act.
Kate’s Tip: “You are going to feel better both physically and mentally just by eating a healthy, predominately plant-based meal (some lean protein and healthy fats are essential too!). Also, make sure you have a colourful plate! The more colour in your mix of vegetables, the more diverse the nutrients will be! Plus, it’s not the known ‘vitamins and minerals’ that really matter most. It’s the wide variants of novel and unknown living compounds in these colourful plant based foods that are really most important!”
Studies have found that those with a severe mental illness have higher intakes of ultra-processed foods, refined grains, saturated and trans fats, and added sugar. These types of foods are thought to cause inflammation in our body which can contribute to the development of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. The ketogenic diet which involves consuming a higher intake of healthy fats and high-quality protein and a lower amount of carbohydrates, has been shown to reduce inflammation in the brain and therefore can be highly beneficial for mental health conditions.
Kate’s Tip: “Keep the ultra-processed foods to an absolute minimum and follow a more Mediterranean-based diet. Not only does this extend the quantity of your life and promote longevity, but most importantly, it enhances the quality of your life as you live healthier and ultimately happier too!”
FOOD & DEPRESSION
Recent research has shown the benefits of a low carbohydrate diet for mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. When we consume carbohydrates, the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine are released. These hormones are often dubbed ‘happy hormones’ as they are key regulators of mood. However, this does not mean we should be consuming more carbohydrates, in fact, the opposite may be true. Overconsuming carbohydrates can result in an excessive level of serotonin and dopamine in the brain which has been shown to be associated with anxiety and even depression due to overstimulation. Therefore, a low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet can be extremely beneficial for your mental health. Being in ketosis can also increase the production of a neurotransmitter called GABA in the brain which has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress, and while we are living in this uncertain COVID environment, it is definitely important to do all we can to keep anxiety and stress at bay.
Kate’s Tip: “Try to keep your carbohydrate intake to predominately whole, low-starch, plant-based foods and practise limiting other carbohydrates, especially refined sugars, to achieve a good overall healthy balance of 50-70g of carbs per day”.
THE SUNSHINE IS HERE – GET OUTDOORS!
Physical activity also has positive effects on mental health. Whether it’s going for a walk or playing tennis, it is important to incorporate some sort of physical activity into your day. It is commonly reported that physical activity can result in increased energy levels, improved sleep quality, improved mood, stress relief and even improvement in memory.
A study has even found that exercise has similar effects on treating mild-moderate depression compared to anti-depressants. And bonus, while the side effects of antidepressants include nausea, weight gain and fatigue, the side effects of exercise include increased energy levels, weight loss and improved cognitive function.
If you are finding it hard to get in your physical activity during lockdown, don’t be too hard on yourself. Try going for a short walk around your block and see how you feel afterwards. Experiment with different types of exercise such as swimming, running, playing a sport or pilates to find what is right for you.
Kate’s Tip: “Just 10 minutes is enough exercise to change your mood as the brain is triggered to release a cocktail of happy hormones (Serotonin, nor-adrenaline, dopamine), which gives us a euphoric feeling which can ensure we have a positive day!”
NEED A RESET?
There are increasing reports of people saying they’ve fallen into some nasty habits during lockdowns. Snacking, drinking and staying stationary in the home office is having detrimental effects on both our physical and mental health. “The COVID Kilos” is quickly becoming an expression we are going to be seeing in the urban dictionary!
It is very easy to reach for the comfort food that’s so readily available: takeaway, snacks in the pantry, the block of chocolate that’s always present, not to mention that bottle of wine and easy pasta bakes. Sometimes we just need a kick start to getting back into healthy habits.
At Be Fit Food we strongly encourage people to consider a seasonal Metabolism Reset. Take 1-2 weeks every few months to just eat well, get your body into a ketogenic state, cleanse your system and enjoy the results. Over time, the resets may just become your regulars and your body, and mind, will thank you for it!
Kate’s Tip: “Why not invest in your health? It’s the true wealth in our world, and our bodies are the only real place we have to live. So do your future self a favor and reset your health and habits to achieve better physical, mental and emotional well-being by eliminating alcohol and eating ‘clean’ for 1-2 weeks a season!”
- Lassale C, Batty GD, Baghdadli A, Jacka F, Sanchez-Villegas A, Kivimali M, et al. Healthy dietary indices and risk of depressive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Mol Psychiatry. 2018;24:965-986.
- Firth J, Gangwisch JE, Borsini A, Wootton RE, Mayer EA. Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing? BMJ. 2020;369:m2382.
- Kandola A, Vancampfort D, Herring M, Rebar A, Hallgren M, Firth J, et al. Moving to Beat Anxiety: Epidemiology and Therapeutic Issues with Physical Activity for Anxiety. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2018;20(8):63.
- Norwitz NG, Naidoo. Nutrition as Metabolic Treatment for Anxiety. Psychiatry. 2021;12:598119
- Wlodarczyk A, Cubala WJ, Wielewicka A. Ketogenic Diet: A Dietary Modification as an Anxiolytic Approach? Nutrients. 2020;12(12):3822.