Mental health has been a hot topic the past few years. Not just on how we can raise awareness, but how we can better care for ourselves and our loved ones. The self-care movement has been an important piece of this, encouraging more people to attend more yoga classes, practice meditation, and just treat themselves! However, there is another important component of self-care and supporting mental health, which is how we fuel our bodies with food.
Our brains are made up of 60% fat and are run by many different vitamins and minerals. In order for neurotransmitters to be produced, signals to be sent, and neurons to be made, we must first have the right building blocks! This requires a well-balanced diet of high-quality meats, seafood, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
I was fortunate enough to attend a training with Dr. Drew Ramsey in the emerging topic of Nutritional Psychiatry. He covered how we can support mental health through food habits and nutrients. Additionally, we reviewed how to incorporate the most nutrient dense foods into our diets.
Dr. Ramsey is a huge advocate for the research and development in nutritional psychiatry and incorporates it into his NYC practice. He uses traditional psychiatry, his knowledge of nutrition, and a health coach on staff to educate clients on how to support their brain heath with food. You can check out more at: www.drewramseymd.com.
It is important to understand that using nutrition to feed the brain is not taking a multivitamin and calling it a day. Our brain needs fake foods to be removed and replaced with the whole, nutrient dense counterparts. First step is to see where in your diet is is easy to add more vegetables and also where you can swap out processed goods for real food.
Here are some easy swaps:
Soda - Kombucha, sparkling water
French Fries - Homemade oven baked sweet potato fries
Pasta - Zoodles (zucchini noodles), spaghetti squash
Candy - Nuts and Dark Chocolate
Lunch Sandwich - Salad with roasted vegetables and free-range chicken
Potato Chips - Kale Chips
According to Dr. Ramsey, there are 21 essential nutrients to focus on for optimal brain health:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Pre & Pro-biotics
Fat Soluble Vitamins A, E, D, K
B-Complex, especially B12, 9, and 1
But try not to get overwhelmed by this list and get hung up on specific nutrients. By eating a well-balanced diet, you will naturally obtain these vitamins and minerals. First focus on eliminating processed foods and replacing them with leafy greens, beans, seafood, vegetables, and low sugar fruits.
Food groups to focus on:
Leafy greens: kale, spinach, swiss chard, collards, arugula, cilantro, parsley, bok choy
Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beets, celery, peppers, onion, garlic, etc
Beans: black, red, kidney, lentils, pinto, navy, fava
Raw Nuts: almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans, walnuts, brazil, macadamia
Seeds: pumpkin, sesame, flax, chia, sunflower
Seafood: oysters, wild caught salmon, sardines, clams, muscles
70%+ Dark Chocolate