Feeding your brain for good mental health


Eating well is not all about your outside appearance. It also applies to the good brain and mental health. Consider the fact that your brain weighs about three pounds but consumes almost 20 percent of the calories you eat each day. For your brain to perform optimally supporting good mental health, it relies on healthy food choices providing key nutrients for proper functioning. Think of it like this; if you’re seeking good mental health to help combat depression and anxiety, some of the most powerful tools are found at the end of your fork.

Of all the organs in your body, your brain is like a Ferrari. You’d treat an expensive car with kid gloves and your brain deserves the same treatment. Feed it the best fuel possible of high-quality foods loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishing your brain protecting it from oxidative stress. Feeding it subpar fuel of a diet high in refined sugars enhances inflammation and oxidative stress leading to impaired brain functioning and worsening of mood disorders like depression.

Eating to feed your mental health

The way to eat for optimal mental health is to choose foods containing high levels of brain-healthy nutrients. Choose this lifestyle habit and you’ll discover your mind is positively affected with less anxiety and depression. It’s encouraging to know, simple dietary changes make a powerful impact on mental health.

The foods listed below are top-notch for feeding your brain while reducing inflammation to help with depression and anxiety. Every day, choose from the following foods to fill up on:

  • Seafood

At least two to three times a week, have fatty fish on your plate. Fatty fish such as albacore tuna, salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, or herring, are good sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids necessary to stimulate nerve-growth factors and reduce inflammation. Along with zinc, iodine, and selenium, you can’t go wrong with seafood.

How to include: Add tuna or salmon to a salad or served over pasta

  • Leafy greens

Each day, have a plateful of salad greens. Choose dark green leafy veggies that catch your eye in the produce aisle – Swiss chard, spinach, arugula, collards, and beet greens. All provide fiber, vitamin C to counteract free-radical damage in brain cells, vitamin A linked to the brain’s ability to grow and adapt, and the B vitamin folate necessary for supporting new brain cells.

How to include: Whirl leafy greens into a smoothie or add to scrambled eggs

  • Nuts, seeds, and beans

Daily, take advantage of nuts, seeds, and beans with impressive nutrition profile, excellent for brain health. Rich in fiber and zinc, these foods help regulate brain signaling and adaptation. Nuts, seeds, and beans are also important sources of iron needed for building hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells helping transport oxygen from the lungs to the brain. Did you know your brain is 70 percent fat? Protect your brain by eating healthy fatty foods providing omega-3 fatty acids, essential building blocks of your brain and important for learning and memory. Ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts are good sources of these healthy fats. Avoid unhealthy fats founds in foods such as commercial cake mixes, frostings, and deep-fried foods that can damage brain cells over time.

How to include: Snack on a handful of nuts, throws seeds onto a salad, or add beans to soups

  • Colorful fruits and vegetables

Purple, green, red, orange, yellow, white, blue…are these the colors of your fruits and vegetables?  Colorful fruits and vegetables are powerhouses of important plant nutrients and fiber for feeding the good bacteria in your gut. Color means amazing anti-inflammatory properties with these foods. Aim each day for at least half a cup of fruits and vegetables at each meal.

How to include: Stir-fry, roast, add fruit to smoothies, chop tomatoes and bell peppers into a pasta sauce, the ideas are endless.

  • Meat, eggs, and dairy

However you may feel about meat, (beef, poultry, pork) it offers a diversity of important brain nutrients such as iron, protein, and vitamin B12, all necessary for the production of mood-regulating chemicals like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.  Eggs are an excellent go-to for protein and choline which help regulate brain chemicals and B vitamins linked to fewer anxiety symptoms. Even fermented dairy foods like kefir and yogurt are full of good bacteria, also linked to lowering depression, anxiety, and psychological distress.

How to include: Choose lean cuts of meat (skinless chicken or “round” or “loin” cuts of beef and pork) at 3-4 ounce portion sizes, have yogurt for an afternoon snack, make a smoothie using kefir, or whip up an egg omelet with veggies.

Feeding your brain for good mental health
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi