Diet is often something which is overlooked when individuals think about their mental health. However, for some it can actually be the solution to an array of issues. It is very easy to get caught in a cycle of eating comfort food that offers short-term benefits but long-term negative effects on mood and mental health, however it is time to put a stop to this vicious cycle. To help identify the main ways a plant-rich diet can boost mental health, we caught up with Ruth Tongue, expert nutritionist from FOGA, who offers her expert advice.
Recent research has focused on the importance of gut health and the way in which fibre-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, can help to boost your gut microbiome. So, what does this have to do with mental health? Well, there have been numerous studies which have linked mental health issues to the gut microbiome, as it has an effect on the enteric nervous system, also known as the second brain, which is responsible for boosting mood, reducing stress and keeping your overall mental health in check.
Many foods, particularly sugary snacks and drinks, can cause energy spikes and dips throughout the day. These foods can also affect your mood and mental health, as overconsumption can cause the body to release insulin in order to absorb the excess glucose in the bloodstream and stabilise blood sugar levels, which can have a huge impact on your mental health. This is because your body is working extra hard to get back to normal blood sugar levels, and this whole process can cause a mixture of emotions which can have disastrous effects on your mental health.
Whilst some people can get through a sugar rush and subsequent crash with minimal impact, others will pay a big price for consuming too much sugar. This is because it can trigger feelings of worry, irritability, and sadness, which can really affect those who already struggle with their mental health. For this reason, a plant-rich diet is highly recommended, as whole fruits, vegetables and nuts and seeds do not have the same negative impact as high-sugar processed foods.
We mustn’t forget those essential vitamins and minerals we find in fruit and vegetables that are responsible for reducing oxidational damage in the body – and the brain! Nutrients such as vitamin C and B vitamins are abundant in fruit and vegetables – and unless focused on getting the daily amount, many could be lacking in these vital vitamins, which can put mental health at risk. Therefore, start the day with a nutritious smoothie, such as the Plantshakes from FOGA, which contain the equivalent of 150g of plants and 2 of your 5-a-day in just one sachet. These smoothies not only help you get your Vitamin C fix, but you can also benefit from the B vitamins and fatigue fighting iron (RRP from £2.40 and available to buy from www.foga.co)
Folic acid, which is something we tend to associate with pregnancy, is one of the key nutrients for protecting brain health – in fact it’s been shown that adults who are low in folic acid are more likely to experience symptoms of depression. Foods which are rich in this essential nutrient include leafy greens, beetroot, citrus fruits, broccoli and papaya, and can all help to ward off symptoms of depression.
As well as vitamins and minerals, many plant-rich foods contain a substance called phytonutrients, which have the ability to act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories in the brain. One group in particular, called polyphenols, have been shown to not only protect against the degeneration of nerve cells in the brain, enhancing memory and learning, but can also have an anti-anxiety and anti-depressive effect when consumed in the diet. There are many different types of polyphenols, but common ones include; ellagic acid which can be found in berries, quercetin found in apples and curcumin found in turmeric.
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