World Mental Health Day: Eat well to ensure mental health

The various enzymes and neurotransmitters that regulate mood and mental state comprise multiple nutrients provided through a good diet.

By Dr. P. K. Manglik,

Humans use a considerable percentage of their energy to keep the brain working. But just like our bodies, our brain, and by extension, our mental health, needs much more than just energy to fulfil its daily needs.

This link between what we consume and how we feel has been explored in several studies. Broadly, a healthy diet provides for the brain’s need for complex nutrients. The various enzymes and neurotransmitters that regulate mood and mental state comprise multiple nutrients provided through a good diet. So, during the World Mental Health Day, let’s dive deep into the essential nutrients for our psychological well-being.

Vitamins B & D

Vitamin D helps in serotonin production, while low levels of Vitamin B Complex, especially B-12, have been known to cause brain inflammation, depression, dull mood, and even dementia. Milk and eggs are known to be excellent sources for Vitamin B Complex. On the other hand, Vitamin D is produced endogenously by the body when UV rays from the sun strike our skin, triggering Vitamin D synthesis. Other sources for Vitamin D consist of Egg Yolk and Salmon.

Fibre

Plant-based fibrous foods absorb glucose making their digestion slower and more sustainable, which prevents rapid depletion of carbohydrates & sugar in the body—fibre results in a healthier gut. About 90% of the serotonin (the “happy” hormone)in the body is produced in the gut. So a healthier gut results in a better state of mind. Beans and whole grains (like whole-wheat) contain sufficient fibre for daily requirements.

Zinc

Zinc is an essential protein that our bodies can’t produce ourselves. It is critical to the body’s stress response mechanism, which means that low zinc levels can lead to depression.Poultry products have been proven to be the best source of Zinc, but there do exist vegetarian alternatives like almonds, cashews, & chickpeas.

Magnesium

Magnesium is in abundance inside the human body and is involved in a plethora of biochemical reactions. It is necessary for a good heartbeat, muscle & nerve function. Also, it is essential for the beneficial bacteria in your gut which contributes to your mood and prevents depression and anxiety. Green Vegetables, Nuts, and seeds provide a sufficient dose of Magnesium for an average person.

Lean Protein

These are the building blocks of your body and supplement brain cells production, which results in a stronger and healthier brain. White meat poultry products like white-fleshed fish are a chief source of protein. Vegetarian alternatives consist of plain greek yogurt.

Complex Carbohydrates

The brain consumes about 20% of your daily energy intake, so your brain can get fatigued pretty quickly through a junk diet. The way to prevent this is to consume complex carbohydrates that sustain your daily energy needs throughout the day. Quinoa, Potatoes, & Whole grains such as brown rice are the primary sources of complex carbohydrates.

Fatty Acids

Certain Fatty Acids like Omega 3S help in improving your cognitive ability and overall brain function. Fish & other sea-based foods are very rich in Fatty Acids like Omega 3S. Additionally, Omega 3S can also be found in vegetarian foods like nuts, seeds, and plant oil.

Iron

Deficiency of Iron (medically described as anaemia) has been linked to stress and higher risk levels of depression.

Poultry products are a great source of iron and provide more than sufficient doses for a healthy person. Other sources such as beans and green vegetables like Spinach also contain an adequate amount of iron.

Our food choices decide our physical and mental well-being; therefore, just as there are good foods, there are also bad ones that you should avoid at all costs lest you want to degrade your mental health. Processed and junk food contains a lot of excess sugar that gives you a temporary boost of energy and increases your dopamine levels making you feel good, but it harms mental and physical health in the long run. Junk Food has an over-abundance of sodium which can cause severe headaches and other medical complications. It also causes tooth decay, raises cholesterol levels and increases blood sugar and insulin resistance, which is the starting point for Diabetes.

A healthy diet is a crucial intervention for strengthening your guard against mental disorders. Generally, we don’t realise the significance of diet and nutrition in ensuring our sound mental health. But it is time to look at one’s diet as a means to a healthy living, not just physically but psychologically as well.

(The author is an Uttar Pradesh-based psychiatrist. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult medical experts and health professionals before starting any therapy, medication and/or remedy. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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