In a world where the link between physical and mental health is gaining recognition, a growing body of research is shedding light on the profound impact of our food choices on our minds.
This emerging field, known as nutritional psychiatry, explores how specific foods can potentially enhance mental well-being, alleviate anxiety, and even discuss about some brain foods to boost mental health. As concerns about mental health among Indian students escalate, experts are turning to dietary strategies as part of a holistic approach to combat anxiety.
Uma Naidoo, a renowned nutritional psychiatrist and the Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital emphasizes the importance of an anti-anxiety diet in improving mental well-being.
In her latest book, “Calm Your Mind With Food: A Revolutionary Guide to Controlling Your Anxiety,” Naidoo delves into the intricate connection between the gut and the brain, challenging the skepticism some patients express about the distant role of the gut in mental health.
The Gut-Brain Connection:
Scientists have long recognized the gut-brain connection, often referring to the gut as “the second brain.” The vagus nerve, extending from the brain through the abdomen and intestines, contributes to feelings of anxiety experienced in the stomach.
Serotonin, a key neurotransmitter affecting mood, is primarily produced in the intestines. Recently, researchers have focused on the gut-brain axis, the communication network between the central nervous system and gut microbes, revealing an association between an imbalance in gut microbes and anxiety and depression.
Choosing the Right Foods for Mental Health:
Naidoo contends that food choices profoundly impact the microbiome, and by selecting the right foods while avoiding detrimental ones, individuals can positively influence their mental health.
Her dietary recommendations include a focus on whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and unprocessed grains, while urging the avoidance of refined carbohydrates, added sugars, artificial sweeteners, and unhealthy fats commonly found in packaged snacks and deep-fried foods.
Brain Foods to Boost Mental Health
In addition to general dietary guidelines, Naidoo recommends an anti-anxiety diet tailored to give mental health a boost and calm the mind. It is intended to complement existing anxiety treatments for those already seeking professional help. Here are seven key brain foods highlighted by Naidoo:
Extra Dark Chocolate:
- Rich in iron and polyphenols, extra dark chocolate is associated with mood improvement.
- Pair with citrus fruits for added benefits, as vitamin C aids iron absorption.
- Look for natural chocolate with 75% cacao or more.
- Packed with fiber, folate, iron, and lutein, an antioxidant linked to depression reduction in research.
- Add various colored leafy greens to salads, steam spinach, stir fry, or incorporate into soups.
- Part of the cruciferous vegetable family, rich in sulforaphane, which helps combat gut inflammation.
- Chopping broccoli before cooking and letting it sit enhances sulforaphane levels.
- A powerhouse of fiber, potassium, vitamin E, and magnesium.
- Magnesium intake is linked to depression, and avocados provide a wealth of essential nutrients.
- Consume a quarter or half of a small avocado a few times a week.
- Contains antioxidants like EGCG and L-theanine, providing a calming effect.
- L-theanine supplements have shown promise in reducing stress-related symptoms.
Chia Seeds or Flaxseeds:
- Excellent sources of omega-3s crucial for brain health.
- Incorporate into salads, smoothies, or oatmeal for a daily dose.
Beans and Lentils:
- Rich in fiber, vital for gut health, and associated with lower anxiety levels.
- Add to stews, soups, salads, and spreads for a nutrient-packed option.
Implementing Change and Seeking Balance:
As the mental health crisis intensifies, experts advocate for a holistic approach to support individuals in navigating anxiety. Naidoo’s insights into the potential of an anti-anxiety diet offer a practical and accessible avenue for individuals to take charge of their mental well-being.
Balancing mental health, dietary choices, and professional support creates a comprehensive strategy for a healthier and more resilient future.