Nutrition for Mental Health

According to the Mental Health Commission in Australia adequate mental health is “a sense of wellbeing, confidence and self-esteem”. It enables us to fully enjoy and appreciate other people, day-to-day life and our environment. This allows us to deal with life’s challenges, use our abilities to reach our potential and form healthy relationships.

Fact: One in Five Australians suffer from a mental illness every year such as bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Fact: Along with high blood pressure, depression is the number one cause of early death

Now I don’t know about you, but I am a pretty proactive and happy person who sees that there is much joy for many of us to experience in a lifetime. Sure the rollercoaster of life is going to present its challenges but I’d like to think we could learn, grow and overcome many of our obstacles. Easier said then done.

Working as Dietitian’s we have a phenomenal opportunity to influence our client’s lives in positive ways to improve their enjoyment of their lives.

One example that comes to mind is an old client of mine who gave up his addictive drinking, started eating healthily and lost weight. Not only did he then have a huge improvement in his health, but also increased energy and productivity, an improved relationship with his wife and most noticeably never hung over and missing his kid’s soccer games on a Saturday ever again.

When it comes to mental health nutrition can be a powerful influencer.

Here are a couple of examples of foods that support mental health:

Omega-3: Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated fat that is commonly found in fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, ocean trout and sardines. It can also be found in nuts and seeds, some of the highest sources being flaxseeds and walnuts.

B Vitamins (Includes folate): Sources of folate include dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and asparagus, as well as legumes and lentils. Folate plays a crucial role in healthy brain development. It also helps to form red blood cells and produce DNA.

Zinc: Deficiencies in zinc in both men and women has been associated with a greater incidence of depression (Vashum KP et al 2014). Zinc can be found in lean meats such as beef, oysters, whole grains and seeds (particularly pumpkin and sesame).

Probiotics for a healthy gut: Modulation of gut microbiota may prove to be a therapeutic target for the treatment and/or prevention of mood and anxiety disorders. A recent randomised control trial (Steenbergen L 2015) has stated that “participants who received the 4-week multispecies probiotics intervention showed a significantly reduced overall cognitive reactivity to sad mood, which was largely accounted for by reduced rumination and aggressive thoughts.”

Although this is emerging research, I would not be surprised if we see more studies proving the same. We already know that the gastrointestinal tract can activate neural pathways and central nervous system signalling systems in the brain.

 Mental Health for children and adolescents: Nutrition in early life

Emerging research suggests that early in the lifespan a healthy diet has an important relationship with mental health risks. This is especially because the onset of anxiety and mood disorders is on average from age 13-16 years.

A recent systematic review that included 12 studies (Adrienne O’Neil et al in 2014) found evidence of a significant cross-sectional relationship between unhealthy dietary patterns and poorer mental health in children and adolescents.

In align with the above research this study also noted that diets of a poorer quality were missing essential nutrients that played a role in mental health:

  • The dietary intake of folate, zinc, and magnesium were inversely associated with depressive disorders
  • Dietary long-chain omega-3 fatty acids were inversely related to anxiety disorders

Of mention physical activity here also played a significant role and was positive for mental health.

Take home message:

Everybody deserves the right to good mental health and a happy life. If you feel like you could benefit from increased mood or mental health support with nutrition, then we would be more than happy to support you in our clinic at Body Fusion.

References:

J Affect Disord. 2014, Dietary zinc is associated with a lower incidence of depression: findings from two Australian cohorts. Sep;166:249-57. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.05.016. Epub 2014 May 23.

Steenbergen L1, Sellaro R2, van Hemert S3, Bosch JA4, Colzato LS5, A randomized controlled trial to test the effect of multispecies probiotics on cognitive reactivity to sad mood. Brain Behav Immun. 2015 Aug;48:258-64. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2015.04.003. Epub 2015 Apr 7.

O'Neil A1, Quirk SEHousden SBrennan SLWilliams LJPasco JABerk MJacka FN. Relationship between diet and mental health in children and adolescents: a systematic review. Am J Public Health. 2014 Oct;104(10):e31-42. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302110.

 

Stress and busy lifestyles: How is it affecting your health?

Your mind is racing, with a long list of things to still do. The calendar is full of social events and commitments. Work is hounding and you can’t remember the last time you had your lunch break. You are sleep deprived exhausted, grumpy and defeated. 

Does it ever stop?

This blog comes inspired by another post I read recently which reflected on the way our lives have become so demanding that we have surrendered our identity to one of perpetual busyness. 

The author proposed that when asked how we are, we often respond with “I am so busy” or “I am exhausted”. He then went on to describe that in Arabic when you want to ask how someone is doing, you ask: Kayf haal-ik?  and this actually translates to “how is your heart”? 

This really connected with me and I will tell you why. These days we are so caught up in doing that we are not being. We tend to measure our success by doings. Often it’s the classic scenario of setting ourselves the goals or outcomes we want to achieve and when get there- wanting more. How much can we push? How much harder can we work? More, more, more! And with this we lose sight and awareness of those human moments and connections in which we can immerse our full attention and joy in being in that moment. We are always thinking, planning, what next?

I am not saying don’t set goals, have dreams or aspirations. I’m just saying, be realistic with these expectations and give your self a break if you take a little longer to get there. We are our worst critics.

In addition to this, we are frequently projecting what we think people or society wants us to be. Take a look at facebook? Doesn’t it seem like everyone has perfectly happy lives and looks stunning in every picture posted? Lets get real. This isn’t all of who we really are. 

And all the while this running around and projecting is making us TIRED and STRESSED. 

I think if we look a little deeper we can evaluate how stress and busy lifestyles affect our health:

Stress: 

Stress is a natural body response.  It can be positive in small doses to avoid danger, but if turned on continually (“distress”) stress can begin to affect the body in quite a negative way. The stress hormones are cortisol and adrenaline, which are both released by the adrenal glands perched on top of the kidneys.

When these hormones are over excited you will most likely experience symptoms such as disturbed sleep, elevated blood pressure, fatigue, an upset stomach, headaches or anxiety. 

How stress impacts upon my clients:

  • Heightened sensitivities to food
  • Triggering of binge or emotional eating
  • Inability to make decisions or organise themselves
  • Overeating
  • The use of food or alcohol as reward to get through hard circumstances
  • Weight gain
  • Poor sleep and consequential increased appetite
  • Heart attacks (I am serious)

Lack of good sleep

I don’t really know where to start. Sleep is so crucial to good health – and we spend a third of our lives doing it (wow!).

During sleep cerebrospinal fluid flow increases 20 fold. The brain also shrinks to leave room for it to surge into the interstitial space between brain structures. This process allows the waste products of metabolism to be eliminated. 

Lack of good sleep can result in the following:

Studies have proven that 7-9 hours sleep is optimal. I’d be advising turn off that technology before bed! Recent studies have shown that blue light from technological devices reduces melatonin in the brain (a hormone which makes you sleepy).

Using and Abusing Food, Caffeine & Alcohol

Food as a reward or celebration, caffeine to bump you through the day or alcohol as a switch off…. go on, you “deserve it”. Too much of the previous isn’t a good thing.

Why?  You are behaviorally depending on these things to deal with stress and in large quantities this can have profound consequences on your health.

Too Much Caffeine:

  • Anxiety, racing thoughts, problems sleeping, fatigue, dependency, withdrawal headaches.

Too Much Food:

  • Weight gain. Too much sugar, salt and fat link back to increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Too Much Alcohol:

  • Weight gain and poor food choices. There is also strong evidence that the chronic intake of alcohol (more than 2 drinks/day) is associated with increased risk of many cancers. These include mouth, lung, gastric (stomach), liver, endometrial, pancreatic, colorectal and breast.

Three years ago I spent New Years Eve at a small oasis in the middle of a dessert in Peru. I had been travelling South America with friends for ten weeks and it gave me some fantastic time for reflection. All my life I have been a doer and it always meant I was always on the run. I literally couldn’t sit still! Even if I was at home I needed to be doing something “productive”. My resolution was to slow down and create more “me” or “quiet” time.

Since then this has revolutionized my life. I have learnt to say no to invitations without guilt. I have learnt it’s ok to have a quiet moment - silences don’t have to be filled.  I am also selfish about my wellbeing. I now practice yoga 5-6 times per week and use my Friday’s sometimes as mental health days to keep my mind fresh. I believe this helps run my business to its maximum potential – I love my job.

I now feel more centered and happy. I can give out more motivation, education and inspiration to my beautiful clients. I am less tired and more relaxed. My immunity is improved, I do not get sick often. I recover well from my exercise. I sleep like an absolute log.

So do you want to be one of those people who when asked always says, “Busy”? Or do you want to be one who is a relatively relaxed and with a lot better health?

How is your heart? 

Party Season: Do's and Don'ts

Wow, only 4 weeks until Christmas! All my clients have been a little stressed out about work amping up and trying to get everything done before the holiday period. On top of this it seems that everyone wants to get in a social Christmas event with you BEFORE the big day hits. Food is a big part of celebrating Christmas, but if you just keep mindful about your choices you can come out the other side not too bad off. This year I thought I would list some simple Do’s and Don’ts.

Do (You will get lots of presents)

·      Take a healthy dish to a party. Options include a big plate of sushi, rice paper rolls, home made Thai fish cakes, cherry tomato, bocconcini and basil skewers or a big fruit salad platter.

·      Have a small high protein snack before you go out so that you don’t turn up hungry and devour the first thing in sight (hello sausage rolls!!). Some ideas include a small 95g tin of tuna or salmon, a handful of nuts, a boiled egg or some veggies sticks and hommous.

·      Reduce your alcohol and energy intake by 1) Taking some soda water to drink between alcoholic beverages 2) Drinking reduced alcohol wine, light beer or spirits with soda or diet soft drink (less calories) 3) Stopping your hosts from topping up your glass, how many did you have again?

·      Only say yes to every third canapé offered. Pace yourself. Christmas is like cricket; you’re in for the long haul! Don't get caught out ;)

·      Keep hydrated with water. Christmas can be hot. Water helps to fill us up and prevent us from reaching for food when really we are thirsty

·      Get active with your friends and family. A game of soccer on the beach, lawn bowls or scenic walks are simple and enjoyable.

Don’ts (You are more likely to get coal)

·      Eat out of family size open packets or dive nose first into the crackers and cheeses without a second thought. You are better off putting a small selection on a plate and sticking to just that. 

·      Think you are doing better by drinking cider. Cider is the in thing in Australia at the moment and our intake is increasing. It’s the most energy dense of all alcoholic beverages!

·      Leave your plate on the table. Studies have proven that people (especially men, sorry guys) will eat up to 40% more when they leave their plate on the table. This is because people will pick at more. You don't really need it!

·      Feel obligated to try and eat a big delicious piece or serving of everything. Choose what you really want. Also, a couple of mouthfuls are all you need to get a taste. Sharing is caring. Hand over the other half of that mince pie.

·      Completely switch off in relation to healthy eating with the justification that it’s Christmas. Yes you can indulge a little but don’t make it your excuse to eat 5 mince pies a day and candy cane for the next festive month.

·      Keep temptation in the house if you can’t handle it. Out of mind out of sight. Give it away, throw it out, or get someone in the family to hide it!

·      Feel like if you have fallen off the wagon it’s game over. You will do a lot more damage if you let things snowball!

Good luck :)