When taking a minute to reflect, it isn’t difficult to understand our bodies are constantly moving and recognize the need to fuel it with food choices that not only keep it running, but choices that keep it in good repair. How much more important is it to think of our brains in the same manner? Not only is it working at maximum capacity during awake hours, but it idles as we rest. For the next few moments, or at least paragraphs, let’s think of our brains as an expensive foreign car. Not only because how it works can be a mystery to some, but because like the car, your brain requires a constant flow of premium fuel. And if you’ve made it this far into the paragraph, I’m sure you’ve guessed that fuel is food!
Much like an expensive car, you can ignore the instructions to fill it with premium fuel and it will still function. After a while though, you may start hearing noises that aren’t exactly coming from your favorite artist on the radio. The brain functions on “junk” food just the same and you could start experiencing a slow and steady breakdown in performance, costing you physically as well as mentally. Let’s discuss a couple of practices we admit ruins the body, but we often fail to calculate the damage it’s doing to our engine (the brain).
Although sugar can be found in most foods, there is a difference between complex sugars found in healthier choices, like fruit versus simple (or refined) sugar found in items like cake, candy, and pasta. A study found participants were more likely to self-report symptoms of depression five years after maintaining diets consisting mostly of fried foods, baked sweets, and processed meats in comparison to those maintaining diets with more fresh produce and fish. Too much refined sugar creates an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals in the body (oxidative stress).
Some diets may suggest increased consumption of one food group versus another or eliminate them entirely for an amount of time. Reducing the variety of foods in your diet makes it difficult to get all the essential nutrients needed. Decreased energy and worsening moods are often linked to low levels of zinc, iron, B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. Paying attention to the foods you omit when dieting is important to maintaining favorable mood and sleep patterns.
Fasting can often be part of a diet for health or other reasons, but it is important to note that skipping meals can lead to lower blood sugar levels. This can make you feel weak and may interrupt sleep patterns which are often essential to maintaining your mental health. Increasing fruits and vegetables in your diet can help with detoxing the body, replenish essential nutrients, and support weight loss goals. Mineral waters and broths are also ways to support food fasts while maintaining nutrients that can help our brain function at its best.
When changing your diet for physical needs, consider food choices and schedules that support brain health as well. Changes in mood and energy levels can be important to tracking and maintaining mental health.
It is important to remember mental health is manageable and treatable. If you think you are experiencing signs or symptoms of depression or anything related to mental health, check out these free and confidential screenings from Mental Health America.
Be sure to consult a professional to help you understand your options and know you don’t have to manage alone. There are many options, including medical treatment and peer support groups, but don’t forget a balanced diet is a great way to support the tools used to maintain our mental health. Happy eating on your wellness journey!