The science of nutrition changes rapidly – year to year, month to month and sometimes even day to day. What does not change, however, are the key concepts to a healthy mind, body and spirit - in other words, “garbage in equals garbage out.” This should resonate not with just some of you but ALL of you. Not only does poor diet and lifestyle affect you physically, but the mental impact is crucial as well.
The Canadian mental health statistics are very real and quite daunting. Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians whether it is you personally, a friend, a family member or a work colleague. One in five Canadians will personally experience a mental health illness in their lifetime - that is approximately 7,000,000 Canadians who are struggling every single day. Most importantly to note as well is that mental illness does not discriminate.
The food-mood connection is somewhat of a new concept being tossed around, but it is extremely effective when utilized properly. And the best part? It doesn’t have to be overly difficult to incorporate into your everyday lifestyle. Below are a few pointers and diet tweaks to help get you started. The key is to be mindful about what you are physically putting into your body - even the smallest tweak or adjustment will be beneficial. For now, the best way to use nutrition to support your mental health is to focus on your overall dietary patterns. "A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health," says Felice Jacka, president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. "A healthy diet is protective, and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.” Some side effects of poor dietary intake can resonate in mood swings, increased anxiety, brain fog, poor sleep, low mood and the inability to concentrate, just to name a few.
When starting your “new and improved plan,” be sure to start slowly with only some minor diet changes - baby steps are key to changing your diet. You have been eating for a specific way for a long time and sometimes change can be stressful and arduous:
- Refrain from eating foods with artificial food dyes, additives or preservatives. These may affect our neurotransmitters causing increased anxiety, depression and ADHD-like symptoms. A quick tip in looking at the ingredients label – usually if there is an ingredient that you can’t pronounce or an acronym you don’t recognize, chances are you shouldn’t be eating it.
- Avoid stimulants such as coffee, pop, energy drinks, alcohol, nicotine and street drugs.
- No added sugar, fake sugar, refined foods or processed foods. These can contribute to inflammation in the body, “spike and crash syndrome” and severe mood issues.
- Change poor quality carbohydrates (white breads, pastas, rice, etc.) for complex carbohydrates (multigrain breads, whole wheat pastas, brown rice, etc.). The human body can digest complex carbohydrates much easier without having the ups and downs that regular carbohydrates can give us.
- Increase your daily intake of protein and ensure you’re eating good quality fats such as wild salmon and avocado.
- Don’t forget your fruits and veggies!
- Eat frequent, smaller meals to balance your blood sugar levels to avoid extreme highs and lows.
- It’s important to snack well so be sure to listen to your body when you’re hungry. Remember that feeding the body is also feeding your mind so choose wisely.
These simple diet modifications will make all the world of difference and optimize not only your physical health but your brain health as well.
Extensive studies have been done on people who suffer with mental illness and have found deficiencies in several vitamins and minerals, so supplements can be a fantastic addition to your daily routine. While this list is extensive, the key supplements are the first four of this list. Please be sure to check with your doctor or naturopath before adding any of these supplements to ensure safety in the event that you are taking any other medications.
- Probiotics – 80% of your serotonin levels are in your gut so a good probiotic will give you the healthy gut flora that your body desperately needs. Genestra’s HMF Neuro Capsules are a common favorite and contain exorphins which are peptides produced during the digestion of certain foods, including wheat and dairy products. One to two capsules at bedtime will make for a very happy gastrointestinal tract.
- Omega 3(EFA’s) - I cannot stress enough that quality is everything when choosing an essential fatty acid. NutraSea High DHA Omega 3 Liquid is a great way to start your day and only one teaspoon of this magical concoction will give you the good fats that your neurotransmitters desperately crave.
- Magnesiumworks incredibly well on calming the nervous system which tends to go into overdrive when mental wellness is not optimal. One to two capsules of Finlandia’s Magnesium Bis-Glycinate 120 mg capsules do the trick and also aid in anxiety, depression, ADHD and sleep issues.
- B-Complex (orB6, at the very least) may help improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Cyto-B Complex by Cyto-Matrix is a favorite as it also contains L-Theanine. Research suggests that L-theanine can help reduce anxiety in people with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. It has also been known to aid in anxiety and the hyperactivity component of ADHD.
- Chromium - Deficiency in chromium can lead to increased anxiety
- Iron– Deficiency in iron is very common and may lead to both increased anxiety and depression.
- L-Tyrosine– This is used to help increase dopamine levels which are crucial for elevated mood. L-tyrosine has also been known to improve motivation.
- 5-HTP or St. John’s Wort - works with L-Tyrosine to balance serotonin levels. Word of caution - do not take either of these if you are taking medication for depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder (SSRI’s or MAOI’s).
Optimal nutrition for mental health and wellness doesn’t have to be difficult – it’s really just about being cognizant of what you are putting into your body. At the same time, be sure to use the 80 / 20 Rule: 80% of the time eat well, be mindful and listen to your body. 20% of the time treat yourself because, after all, we have one life, so let’s make it count!
For further information or to book an appointment, please call our Health Centre at 604-734-7760
Karen Ryan, NNCP, RHN is a registered clinical and holistic nutritionist and Integrative ADHD and mental health practitioner specializing in drug free strategies for managing ADHD and mental wellness. She is a firm believer in the correlation between food and mood and believes that a clean diet is the best medicine for sound health of body and mind. Guided by her extensive education, research and experience in both nutrition disciplines, Karen dedicates her focus to helping all people, including children and teens, eat healthier, live happier and increase better levels of mental wellness for improved quality of life.
Karen is an active member of several organizations and is the founder of vancouverADHD and The ADDvocates, both of which are aimed at raising awareness of ADHD and mental health. Her book, ADHD is Not a Four-Letter Word: Drug Free Strategies for Managing the Gift that is ADHD was released in May 2014. Karen also currently runs a Mental Health Program out of the Finlandia Health Centre