Having a nourishing diet helps maintain a strong and resilient healthy body and brain. Bodies need fuel to function. The choices we make in food and drink impacts on how well our body’s systems run. The right sources of energy, vitamins and minerals, as well as food to keep our gut bacteria happy, improves our ability to cope with every day stresses.
The brain itself uses a huge amount of energy. About twenty percent of the energy we consume from food and drink is used by the brain, which is more than any other organ in the body.
It is often said that “what’s good for the heart is good for the brain”. Scientific evidence points towards a Mediterranean diet for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and overall mortality. Research looking at the link between diet and mental health also indicates this diet is helpful in reducing the risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders.
So what are the best foods for a healthy body and mind?
Oily fish - Omega 3 fatty acids in oily fish are thought to be necessary for the synthesis of neurotransmitters and other important chemicals in the brain. Examples of oily fish include trout, sardines, salmon, mackerel and kippers.
Fruit and vegetables – These colourful foods are great sources vitamins and minerals, including antioxidants and folate. Antioxidants are a substance known to balance levels of free radicals in the body, which prevents damage to cells.
Here are some examples of antioxidants:
Vitamin C: found in oranges, kiwi fruit and peppers.
Vitamin E: found in green leafy vegetables as well as nuts and seeds.
Flavanoids: found in berries and oranges, as well as tea and coffee.
Folate is a B Vitamin and is essential for brain development. Low levels of folate have been associated with lower levels of serotonin, commonly known as “the happy chemical”. Good dietary sources of folate include green leafy vegetables, fruit and fortified cereals.
Whole grains and legumes (beans and lentils) – Not only are these a good source of B Vitamins which are essential for the structure and function of brain cells, they also provide fibre. Fibre supports a healthy gut and keeps the good bacteria happy which is important for both physical and mental health through something known as the ‘gut-brain axis’.
Research shows that we should aim for a minimum of 30 different plant foods per week. This means eating a range of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains.
In summary, a diet with oily fish, lots of fruit and vegetables, whole grains and low fat dairy is best for both our physical and mental health. A diet that is high in processed and red meat, refined cereals, sugar and low in fruit and vegetables has a negative impact on physical health and increases the risk of depression.
It doesn’t have to cost a lot! Top tips for eating well on a budget…
- Look for ‘wonky’ vegetables. It might not look pretty but it’s equally as nutritious.
- Frozen fruit, vegetables and fish tend to be cheaper.
- Choose supermarket own brands of wholegrain cereals and oats.
- Check the discount section and reduced items. Often foods in this section can be frozen if they aren’t going to be eaten right away.
- Write a plan of meals for the week and stick to a shopping list. Avoid shopping on an empty stomach to avoid unintentional purchases!
- Bulk up meals with lentils and beans as a cheap way to increase nutritional value.
For more tools and resources on wellbeing visit: areyouok.gov.im