Here at Real Nutrition, we love May because of the warmer weather, increased sunshine, and the natural mood boost we feel as the days grow longer. Guess it makes sense then that May is also Mental Health Awareness Month. We like to take this time to check in with ourselves (and others) to think about how we can fuel our brains in order to support our mental health and overall wellness. There is a huge connection between our digestive tract and our brain that affects how we operate. In fact, this month we are visiting with a bunch of different corporations to give wellness talks (yes we give talks both in person and virtually to groups) on Food and Mood because what you eat has an enormous impact on how you feel, work, play, sleep and focus.
What foods and behaviors do we recommend to keep your brain (and your gut) happy and healthy? How can you boost your mood through food? It’s not as hard as you think! Below we’ve shared some of our top tips to keep you happy(ier). Indulge and enjoy!
*Please note if you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health call a doctor and seek help *
- Lean Heavily on Plants: Minimally processed whole foods retain most of their original nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fibers, and healthy fats. They also contain antioxidants that fight inflammation. This is essential for protecting the lining of the digestive tract, enhancing nutrient absorption, and improving activations of neural pathways between gut and brain. Some of our favorites include: Leafy greens (kale!) berries (blueberries!), and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon and walnuts!).
- Prevent Extreme Hunger: Ever felt really angry and then realized you were just hungry? We call that hangry (get it? Hungry + angry). Not eating enough nutrient-dense foods, eating too few calories, or not balancing your meal with macronutrients can be why. The fix? Eat balanced meals (carb, protein, and fat) at regular intervals (every 3 – 4 hours). In between meals enjoy a smaller version as a balanced snack to maintain blood sugar and energy to get you through the rest of the day!
- Choose the Right Caffeine: Caffeine is a go-to for boosting brain power. In fact research shows, it helps slow cognitive decline and degenerative illnesses. However, the same caffeine source doesn’t work for everyone. For example, coffee gives you a more instant kick which might raise adrenaline and increase anxiety and sleeplessness. On the other hand, green tea or matcha releases a slower more even energy since it naturally contains L-Theanine and therefore may cause less jitters and nervousness. It’s all about finding the best caffeine choice for you! Feel free to skip it altogether!
- Hydration: We will never stop emphasizing the importance of adequate hydration. Signs of dehydration often mimic exhaustion, body aches, moodiness, and low energy. Therefore, meeting your water goals helps prevent mood swings, increase feelings of calm, and decrease feelings of depression and anxiety. 80 – 100 oz of water/day. Cheers!
Avoid or Limit Highly Processed, High Sugar Foods: Yes we are talking about candy, sweets, chips, soda, and Cheetos. Foods are often craved when we need a burst of energy. Sure, they provide a quick sugar rush – fast energy – but there’s the catch. They are almost always followed by a sugar crash leading to fatigue, anger, anxiety, and a foul mood until corrected by…you guessed it, more sugar. These snacks also contain high amounts of saturated fat and/or trans fat which can lead to inflammation and chronic disease, additional risk factors for the development of mental illnesses.
And don’t forget to move your body and get enough sleep too!