Choices, we all have a choice in what we choose to eat. Since childhood we have heard the saying , “You are what you eat”, so what are you? Put simply, food is fuel, and the kinds of foods and drinks you consume determine the types of nutrients in your system and impact how well your mind and body are able to function.
Eating right for mental health is pretty simple. You want to eat more real, whole, natural foods and less processed and junk food. The general rule of thumb is to eat a wide variety of food the way it grows from the ground, on vines, bushes and trees. Fruit, nuts, and vegetables in their original, natural, form. Meat and poultry should be organic, free-range, and grass-fed whenever possible. Dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese are also best from organic grass-fed animals. Drink at least 48 oz of water daily, and avoid sugary drinks. Meat, eggs and dairy products from grass-fed animals are higher in omega 3 fatty acids. Here are some of the most nutrient dense, readily available, foods for the best mental health:
Berries -Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries as well as other berries are rich in vitamin C and other powerful antioxidants. They also have important fiber, potassium and digestive enzymes. Berries can be cooked or eaten raw, added to yogurt, cereal, or smoothies.
Yogurt -Yogurt is a cultured (fermented) food with billions of probiotic bacteria. Probiotics aid in breaking down nutrients for better absorption. This not only improves digestion, it allows the body and brain to better use the nutrients we consume. Recent research suggests a link between good gut health and good mental health. Good bacteria in the gut is essential for good gut health. Different brands of yogurt have different combinations of cultures (bacteria). It is good to switch between different brands to get a variety of bacteria. Also make sure the yogurt has live cultures. Greek yogurt generally has the highest protein content with a thicker consistency, making it a good substitute for sour cream. There are so many fun ways to eat yogurt. Add it to hot or cold cereal, to fruit parfaits and smoothies, potato topping, cold soups, salad dressings….the list is almost endless
Eggs- Besides fatty fish like salmon, and some mushrooms, eggs are one of the few food sources of vitamin D. They are high in protein and can also be a source of omega 3’s if they come from pasture raised chickens. Eggs are a good source of vitamin B12.
Spinach-This dark leafy green is a great source of iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and folate. It also has some omega 3’s in a ratio to omega 6 of 5:1. Other dark leafy greens like chard, kale, collard greens, and beet greens are also excellent sources of these nutrients. Leafy greens are versatile and easy to incorporate in various entrees and side dishes. They can be sauteed, steamed, added to soups and stews and even smoothies!
Salmon -Salmon is an excellent source of protein, vitamin D, and potassium. It is also one of the best sources of DHA omega 3 with a ratio to omega 6 of about 1:23! It is also high in B vitamins, including B12. Salmon provides tryptophan which converts to serotonin, an important mood regulator, in the brain.