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By Andrea Bursey

Nutrition & Mental Wellbeing 

If you thought food was just fuel for your body, think again! Your mental wellbeing is directly linked to the foods you consume, and you can improve mental clarity and wellbeing from simply choosing better and more nutritious options. During times like these (Covid-19), where we have limited interaction with friends and loved ones, it is particularly important to prioritize mental health and self-care. 

Read more: COVID-19: 19 WAYS TO PROTECT YOURSELF & STAY HEALTHY AMIDST THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

The link between the gut and mental health

Unhealthier options that are high in sugar and fat are often seen as indulgent treats which may result in you feeling happier for a short period of time but leave you sluggish and flat afterwards. The effect of highly processed and sugary foods has also been found to influence your gut microbiome, affecting absorption and digestion which has an impact on various other functions in the body. 

Serotonin is a hormone that regulates sleep, appetite, and mood. About 95% of the serotonin in your body is produced in the gastrointestinal tract (gut). The gut contains millions of nerve cells that help digest and absorb nutrients as well as influence the overall bacteria in your gut. 

Having an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria can limit nutrient absorption and reduce your overall immunity. Boosting certain nutrients like prebiotic fibers and probiotics nourishes the good bacteria to improve your overall gut health. 

Examples of foods that may aid the growth of good bacteria include fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi and kombucha. A highly processed and high sugar diet unfortunately has the opposite effect. 

Check out this blog to explore more on the topic: THE MIND-GUT CONNECTION – HOW TO UNLOCK YOUR GUT HEALTH POTENTIAL

Fueling your best mental performance

Nutrition

Think about your body like a car. Your car functions better when it is fueled with the correct fuel and breaks down when you forget to add fuel or if you use the wrong type. Your body is similar, holistically functioning optimally when you “fuel” it with high quality foods packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The human brain is fueled directly by glucose, the by-product of carbohydrates. Foods that provide us with carbohydrates include fruit, milk, sugar, bread, and pasta. 

As we all know, not all carbohydrates are created equally. Diets that are high in sugar upset your body’s regulation of insulin, promoting oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. 

A balanced diet with higher fiber carbs like fruit and wholegrains is great for providing the brain with energy to function throughout the day with less insulin spikes, giving you more mental clarity. The frequency at which you eat may also play a role in your concentration and energy levels. Some people prefer to skip breakfast while others thrive on 6 small meals per day. The key is finding your balance and sticking to a plan that suits your needs and lifestyle. 

Protein plays a role in providing our bodies with amino acids which aids hormone balance as well as mood. Including a variety of high-quality protein sources such as beans, legumes, lean beef, chicken, and fish is a great idea to make sure your productivity is at its peak. A regular intake of healthy fats also comes highly recommended for optional brain function. Include fat sources that are high in omega 3 and 6 to boost brain function and reduce inflammation. 

Check out this blog I wrote on intuitive eating: INTUITIVE EATING – COULD IT BE THE ANTI-DIET PLAN FOR YOU?

Eating a variety of foods from different food groups daily will ensure you have a constant intake of different beneficial vitamins and minerals that play a role in your mental and physical health. Diets that are restrictive and ban certain food groups can result in nutrient deficiencies.  

Shopping right

Next time you’re at the grocery store, take the time to fill up your cart with a variety of foods as well as colourful fruit and veggies and fermented foods. Having nutritious snack options on hand is also a surefire way to make sure you don’t reach for the cookie jar next time you’re feeling peckish. 

The final word

Pay attention to what you put in your body and the way that certain foods make you feel. Remember that everyone is different and finding a way of eating that works for you and helps you function as your highest self is something that will take commitment and time, but at the end of the day, it’s well worth it – your mental wellbeing will thank you for it. 

Andrea Bursey

About Andrea Bursey

Hi, my name is Andrea (Andy for short), and I am a Registered Dietitian. I graduated with my Dietetics degree in 2014 from UKZN and then went on to complete my Masters in Dietetics while working. I am passionate about making healthy living sustainable and fun and enjoy creating easy recipes that anyone can make at home. My current career path involves creating and developing effective, evidence-based sports and health supplements. Before this, I was the Health & Wellness Manager of a large corporate company. In my spare time, I love running and walking my dogs. I am here to make your healthy lifestyle attainable and sustainable!

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