Mental Health and Nutrition

Followers of this blog know that I have been dealing with brain fog as symptom of long-haul COVID. I have blogged about it twice: once in December and once earlier this month. I continue to work with a speech therapist, follow the advice of the integrative medicine specialist I met with, and play my daily brain games. As part of this process, I have learned about expected factors that can affect how well my brain is functioning.

It has long been known that exercise can have positive effects on our brains–not just with regard to preventing cognitive decline, but also in fighting depression and anxiety. An overall healthy lifestyle that combines exercise, good nutrition, plenty of rest, and good social connections can influence our mental wellness.

The connections between nutrition and mental health goes back about 3000 years when it was noted by the ancient Chinese; this continued through the Greek and Roman periods right up to the 21st Century. In the last 20 years there has been a surge in research about which foods can improve mental health, in what quantity, and prepared in which ways. I recently completed a continuing education course that focused on this very topic; the on-line instructor was Maggie Moon.

Several takeaways from the class were:

–The main mood-regulating neurotransmitters are affected by nutrition. Certain foods can boost brain health such as berries, oysters, chia seeds, salmon, walnuts, kale, water, and watermelon.

–When it comes to mental illness, there are nutritional strategies that can complement other treatments. Certain foods have been found to have high anti-depressant properties. Chief among them are foods that are high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids; the brain needs fat and is also hungry for foods rich in anti-oxidants.

–The top foods for fighting mental illness have been found to be: vegetables, organ meat, fruit, seafood, beans, meats, grains, nuts and seeds, and dairy. The most recent studies place special importance on more nuts and vegetable diversity.

–Some foods have a negative effect on mental health: butter or stick margarine, whole-fat cheese, fried foods, red meat, and pastries/sweets. These should be consumed in limited quantities.

The presenter suggested that the easiest way to follow these recommendations is to follow the Mediterranean Diet, the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), or the MIND Diet (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay). The MIND Diet takes the best of Mediterranean and DASH with a few adjustments. Traditional diets (Japanese, Norwegian) are also good for reaching the same goals.

We all know that what we eat matters when it comes to our physical health. We may also know that certain foods can either help or harm our cognition. What is exciting is to know that the right nutrition can also improve our mental health.

Making the right nutritional choices is part of an overall healthy lifestyle–not only for the part of us below the shoulders, but from the neck up as well!