Easy fixes to improve mental health….and it involves eating

Sanctus are trying to change the perception of mental health, they want us to start thinking about our mental health in the same way we think of our physical health, where we take care of it regularly.

Mental health is one of those things that we don’t like talking about and it’s time a light is shone on this subject to help remove the stigma. I know from my own experience that when my Son’s School talked about his lack of self confidence as coming under the mental health banner, I wanted to run a mile rather than have him ‘labelled’ but talking about it is what helps us resolve things and get any support that we might need.

The World Health organisation predicted by 2020 that depression will be the second leading cause of medical disability on earth.

So I wanted to highlight the ways in which nutrition can help support your mental health, as there are so many things you can do and on the flip side, if you aren’t doing any of this then your journey will undoubtably be harder than it needs to be.

You are what you eat, we hear it all of the time but to be more specific you are what you absorb, I’ll come back to this point later. Fast food and processed or packaged foods, they all serve one purpose really, and that is convenience. What is convenient to our time though, is usually not so convenient to our body (unless you just picked an apple straight off the tree). I’m sure many of us are familiar with the post coffee, sugar, chocolate and even roast dinner slumps. So in simple terms, if we want to be in a good mood than we can choose foods that supports this. Have a think about your top 5 foods that make you feel good and include more of these into your diet. My number 1 food is definitely chia seeds, if I have them for breakfast I can power on for hours, they are full of protein, good fats, antioxidants and fibre and so I’ve found chia makes me cheerful. I could easily name 5 foods that make me feel crap, coffee yep (love it but it doesn’t suit me), alcohol yep (love it but it doesn’t give me that lovin’ feeling back the next day), takeaways (watch for the energy slump the next day), you get the idea. So eat less of these, yeah they may make you feel good in the moment but it’s not a worthwhile exchange for your future physical and mental health.

The brain is the fattest organ in our body and is at least 60% fat, so if we are not consuming good fats, we aren’t supporting our brain. To break is down further, in the UK we need double the amount of omega 3 than 6. It feels like the bulk of a standard diet is omega 6, it’s in meat, dairy and most nuts and seeds alone. Omega 3 is harder to find and sources include flax, chia, oily fish (but we have polluted seas and farmed fish to consider), algae’s and walnuts. If you are low on Omega 3’s your mood will suffer, your skin maybe dry and flaky. Other symptoms include fatigue, poor memory, heart problems, depression and poor circulation.

So having the correct levels of Omega 3 and 6 is imperative and one of the best ways to support your mental health. You can aim to do this through your diet by including the above mentioned foods but most people would benefit from a high quality supplement, if your liver is in good health. After increasing my own essential fatty acid levels I found all of my cravings disappeared and my mood became consistent rather than the old ups and downs I used to experience.

Serotonin is known as the happy chemical and it helps to regulate anxiety, mood and of course happiness, it’s estimated that 90% of the bodies serotonin is made in the gut. So again, eat right and you will be happier. I find fermented foods particularly good for the gut, an easy way to try this is with water kefir. You can make this easily and cheaply at home to enjoy as a beverage and I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t liked it. This goes back to my earlier point of us being what we absorb. You can eat all the healthy food in the world but if your digestion is weak, you may still not be absorbing the vitamins and the minerals your body needs. In this case do some research or seek out the help of a professional to help you improve this.

Other important vitamins to support your mental heath:

B vitamins (the full range) but particularly vitamin B5 is a great stress buster. Symptoms of deficiency are fatigue, chronic stress, and depression.

Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin is vital for brain development and is required by every cell in the body.

Magnesium – helps B vitamins absorb and is also involved in many brain chemistry reactions. It’s deficiency has been linked to depressive and anxiety symptoms.

Zinc – helps to improve a depressed mood and it’s deficiency has been linked to increased depressive symptoms.

There are also other simple things and enjoyable things you can do to support your mental health.

Re-connecting with nature for an hour a day this can make a huge difference, could you do this by walking part of the way to work and back? Even grounding yourself by walking barefoot outdoors or on wooden flooring can help.

Introducing breathing exercises which within 10 minutes can have an impact on how you feel. I use this if I ever feel any anxiety as you can do it anytime, anywhere and feel an instant benefit.

Exercise, of course, it’s like the magic pill for everything. If you suffer from mental health challenges then often lower impact exercises like walking, yoga, tai-chi and swimming maybe enough.

Practicing meditation or mindfulness can help you slow down and recognise what is important in your life.

So overall, the news is great, there is a lot you can do to help yourself and the support network is also getting better too with companies like Sanctus making it cool to talk about it.

Wishing you health and happiness

Hannah x

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