As a mental health professional, I see a steady stream of people of all ages struggling with anxiety and depression. Unfortunately this summer, traditionally a time I see a drop in referrals, has been very busy. It seems we live in an anxious world. My dual training in mental health and nutrition often leads me to try to help people look at what they are putting in their body. With so much of how our body functions dependent on having the necessary vitamins and minerals to do what it needs to do, it seems important to look at our intake. Having a diet that includes the 3 macro nutrients- carbs, fats and protein- is essential to optimal functioning. Shoot for including each macro nutrient with every meal and snack.
The building blocks of protein are amino acids. These amino acids are essential for our body make the neurotransmitters that are responsible for our mood. A neurotransmitter imbalance or deficiency can cause a host of problems like depression, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, irritable bowel, hormone dysfunction, eating disorders, Fibromyalgia, obsessions, compulsions, adrenal dysfunction, chronic pain and migraine headaches. Including protein with every meal helps our body balance blood sugar as well as make our neurotransmitters.
Carbohydrates have recently been getting a bum rap. This misinformation is unfortunate because carbs are a natural source of tryptophan, a nonessential amino acid. As more tryptophan enters the brain, more serotonin (the feel good chemical) is synthesized in the brain, and mood tends to improve. Complex carbs also improve gut health and with upwards of 80% of the serotonin produced in the gut, a healthy gut is important. However, you want to steer away from sweets and sugary drinks. Focus on high fiber, complex carbs like fresh fruits and veggies and whole grains.
Finally, don’t forget to get your healthy fats. Fats make up the bulk of our brain so we need to them for our brain to function properly. Fats are also important to metabolize fat soluble vitamins like D, K, E and A,. All of these vitamins are important for optimal functioning but low levels of Vitamin D has been linked to depression. Try to maintain a balance of Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s.
Focusing on a diet that includes all three macro nutrients at every meal or snack is not a quick fix to better mental health but over time you could see improved mood. If you continue to struggle with feelings of anxiety or depression, see your health care practitioner. You can feel better- help is available.
Photo is from flickr.