While a well-balanced diet is key to optimal health, there are certain foods that are especially nourishing to the brain and the body. By consistently integrating these foods into your daily and weekly routine, your body and brain will have the necessary vitamins and nutrients to function at their best.
At Awakened Path, we firmly believe in the role of nutrition on the body, the brain, and more specifically, mental health. When working with our clients, we integrate a mind-body approach to therapy, wherein we offer guidance on how to optimize lifestyle habits to support well being. Nutrition and integrative medicine are up and coming areas of focus in mental health treatment and are pillars within the Awakened Path philosophy. Integrative nutrition and healing go hand in hand and the following foods are part of a healthy diet that can help you reach holistic balance with your nutrition.
Top 10 Foods to Support Your Mental Health (in no particular order):
- Bone Broth
- Fermented foods
- Leafy greens
- Wild caught fish
- Raw almonds
- Extra dark chocolate
Avocados are a tremendous source of vitamins, nutrients, and healthy fats. Fats are essential for brain health. Living in a society that promotes a low-fat lifestyle, it can be detrimental to overall wellness to follow this culturally prescribed dietary practice. While there are certain fats that can be harmful to the body, the fat from avocados serve you and your brain well.
Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA, specifically) are essential for brain health and are found in abundance in avocados. Omega-3s promote brain health through protecting the brain from excessive inflammation. There is an essential, yet delicate balance between omega-3s and omega-6s that is generally out of balance while consuming the standard American diet. On average, the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s is 20:1 while the ideal ratio is 4:1. While omega-6s are important in this balance, an influx in omega-6s promote inflammation within the body and the brain.
As mentioned, avocados are an excellent source of omega-3 fats which can help manage this ratio to best support your body and your mind.
Our gut plays a pivotal role in our mental health. The gut is directly connected to the brain by the vagus nerve. That said, nourishment of the gut, or lack thereof, directly affects the brain and brain health. Bone broth is broth derived from the bones and connective tissues of certain animals. It is an easy addition to soups, sauces, and more.
Rich in proline and glycine, these two amino acids are incredibly nourishing to the body. Glycine slows down the production of norepinephrine which is influential on feelings of anxiety. It also acts to improve vitamin and mineral absorption and soothes the digestive tract. The gut lining is sensitive to environmental toxins and harmful ingredients that promote intestinal permeability.. Bone broth plays a pivotal role in the healing of this issue.
Glycine has been shown to also support the production of GABA, which is a calming neurotransmitter that reduces the anxiety response. Bone broth is also rich in L-glutamine, an amino acid that plays a powerful role in gut nourishment.
When you think of blueberries, think antioxidants. Antioxidants are powerful players in fighting free radical damage and oxidative stress caused by toxins and stressors. The key antioxidant group found in blueberries are anthocyanin, which give them their color. As mentioned earlier, free radical damage and oxidative stress contribute to illness and disease. The power of antioxidants have been found to support brain health and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Blueberries have also been found to raise production of serotonin precursors; serotonin being the “happy chemical.” Furthermore, blueberries have been found to help regulate and prevent spikes in cortisol, the stress hormone, by repairing cells that have been damaged. Blueberries are considered highly anti-inflammatory, which helps manage inflammation within the body and the brain.
If you’re not a fan of blueberries, consider any berry (blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc.) as a wonderful source of antioxidants. Remember: The darker the berry, the higher the antioxidant content!
Gut health is essential to brain health. The microbiome—the composition of bacteria found in the intestinal tract—is what allows the gut to operate optimally. Fermented foods are especially nourishing to the good bacteria that inhabit the gut and ensure they’re able to do their job.
Fermented foods, like kimchi, miso, kombucha, sauerkraut, or kefir, are excellent sources of probiotics to ensure optimal gut health. A delicate balance of good and bad bacteria compose the microbiome and contribute largely to immune health, mental health, and overall functioning of the body.
Fermented foods are a tremendous way to naturally integrate probiotic bacteria into your routine. Nourishment of the gut, through lifestyle, is critical to optimal functioning of the brain and the immune system.
The phrase “eat your greens!” is oftentimes viewed as synonymous to eating a healthy diet. As mentioned earlier, while eating a well-balanced, colorful diet is ideal for optimal health, there is something to be said about the importance of greens.
The darker the green, the richer the benefit! Leafy greens are rich in nutrients such as vitamin K, lutein, and folate, which contribute to a well-balanced diet. Significant research demonstrates the importance of folate (and B vitamins, in general) and cognitive function. Leafy greens are also rich in magnesium, which has been considered an “anxiolytic” mineral, or otherwise known as the “anti-stress” mineral.
Be sure to pair your greens with a source of healthy fat, like extra virgin olive oil, avocado, or avocado oil. Doing so optimizes the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients found in the greens and inevitably makes the greens much tastier! A two for one deal.
Wild Caught Fish
Fish is abundant in omega-3 fatty acids which are essential to mind and body health. As mentioned earlier, EPA and DHA are critical to brain health and can be found in cold-water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines. Similarly, fatty fish are abundant in minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc which all play a critical role in mental health and brain nourishment.
While wild caught fish are generally more expensive, their cost speaks to the quality. Farm raised fish typically contain larger amounts of omega 6 fats, which as mentioned earlier, contribute to the extreme imbalance of omega-3 to omega-6 ratio found in the Standard American Diet. Furthermore, farm raised fish are typically living in environments that are overcrowded with a high concentration of pollutants and antibiotics. That said, the quality of the fish is compromised due to the way they are fed and their polluted environments.
Choosing wild caught fish, if possible, is a great source of vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids to support brain health.
Mushrooms have tremendous properties that support mental health and in adaptogenic mushrooms, help the body adapt to stress. Adaptogenic mushrooms, like reishi, Lion’s mane, and rhodiola have been found to be tremendously helpful to manage distress.
Vitamin D is abundant in mushrooms, a nutrient which has been found to be influential in mental health concerns. Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most widespread nutrient deficiencies nationwide. Research illustrates a connection between low vitamin D levels and an increased likelihood of depression and depressive symptoms.
Not many foods are naturally rich in vitamin D, which is why oftentimes, individuals choose supplementation. Vitamin D is found naturally in animal sources, so vegetarians and vegans should be especially aware to ensure they’re consuming an adequate amount.
Raw almonds are loaded with the antioxidant, Vitamin E, which is critical for brain health. Vitamin E is a member of the body’s defense system against free radical damage. Free radicals in the brain arise from stress, inflammation, toxins, etc. The presence of free radicals in the brain contributes to oxidative stress which promotes illness and disease.
Almonds are an excellent source of fat, protein, and fiber. Fiber promotes gut health, which as mentioned earlier, is critical to mental health. Almonds also contain a significant amount of magnesium, which has been found to be tremendously helpful in the management of symptoms of anxiety and stress.
Turmeric root is a powerful food that is supportive of mind body wellness. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory and is sometimes referred to as “Nature’s Advil.” Turmeric has an active ingredient, curcumin, that is the powerhouse anti-inflammatory compound. It is best utilized in tandem with black pepper as it maximizes the absorption within the body.
Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. The inflammation fighting powers of turmeric have been found to be protective against cognitive decline. It is both a powerful antioxidant, is supportive of immune health, and has been found to boost levels of serotonin and dopamine, both important in mood regulation.
Extra Dark Chocolate
Yes, chocolate! The darker, the better. Dark chocolate, preferably 72% cacao or higher, is loaded with antioxidants. As mentioned earlier, antioxidants are critical to brain health. In particular, dark chocolate is most abundant in flavanols, a nutrient considered ‘brain-protecting.’ Flavanols have been associated with improvements in mood and cognition. Furthermore, tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin production. As mentioned earlier, serotonin is considered the “happy chemical.” Dark chocolate contains the most amount of L-tryptophan among all other types of chocolate.
Dark chocolate is not only good for your mental health, but good for your soul as well! Consider incorporating dark chocolate (the higher the cacao content, the better) into your daily or weekly routine.
What are my next steps?
While it may feel intimidating to make lifestyle shifts that step out of personal comfort zones, gradually adding different foods makes it much less daunting. Consider all of the nutrient-dense foods one can add to support wellness, instead of all the foods you might consider cutting out.
If you are looking to further explore nutrition and integrative medicine for mental health, we’d love to connect. At Awakened Path, we offer integrative nutrition therapy and firmly believe in the power that is lifestyle to influence and improve our well being. Always consult your health care provider prior to making any significant changes in your dietary lifestyle.
Considering trying out therapy for the first time? Check out this blog for an inside scoop on how to “be good” at therapy: https://www.awakenedpathcounseling.com/six-life-changing-secrets-to-being-good-at-therapy/
Check out this article to learn more about nutrition and integrative medicine for mental health https://addictiondomain.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/The-role-of-Vitamins-in-mental-health.pdf
Awakened Path Counseling proudly provides quality nutrition and integrative medicine therapy, at their offices in Middlesex County, New Jersey, and online. Their experienced therapists specialize in serving children, teens and adults. The experienced clinicians at Awakened Path Counseling are passionate about their holistic approach to mental health, addressing your emotional, cognitive, physical, and spiritual needs.