Purewellness

The Connection between Mental Health & Food

Perhaps nothing is quite as important to our ongoing physical, mental and emotional wellbeing as the food we eat—and the drinks we consume.

The Australian Health Survey reported in 2015 that Australian’s consume around 3.1 kilograms of food and drink daily

And what we take into our bodies literally shapes our chemistry, including the balance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.

Though “You are what you eat” is a quote often casually used, it does contain a very literal meaning. This is because the human body, that may appear unchanged to our own eyes, is constantly being reshaped and remodeled.

Even the hard tissue of bone.

And guess where the building blocks for this constant remodeling processes come from?

You guessed it. Most of it is drawn from the 3.1kg of food and drink that we consume daily (though some nutritional resources are naturally recycled within the body).

If you’re taking in kilograms of food and drink that contains chemicals from non-organic farming practices and food additives, then you can imagine the toll it takes on our long-term health.

Food is supposed to nourish and elevate without placing an undue burden on our detoxification systems. However, the typical western diet tends to drain and deplete, leaving us fighting an uphill battle that we may never actually win.

Hippocrates stated around 370BC “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food.” Well ahead of his time, this practitioner knew over 2,000 years ago the power of food to nourish and even reduce the risks of many common ailments.

But does this still hold true today, in modern times, when we’re fighting the effects of the industrial chemical revolution, extreme mental stressors, artificial foods and even electromagnetic (EMFs) frequencies?

Food is still our first line of defense in protecting us against common ailments, whether they be ancient chronic diseases or new health conditions brought about by the technological revolution and hectic fast-paced lifestyles.

Certainly, the quality of the food and drink we choose is more important now than ever before. This can be highlighted further by the difference in quality of foods available to us.

We can choose cream filled buns or steamed organic kale. We can grab protein bars with the texture of compressed cardboard or organic free-range whole eggs cooked in pasture-fed ghee.

If 2020 has taught us anything, now is the time to take charge of our health, because no one will care for our health (or fully understand) it quite like we do.

And with good overall health, a foundation is created to feel better mentally and emotionally. However, you can’t forget the important of adequate sleep, regular exercise, stress management practices, creative hobbies, spending time in nature and getting enough Vitamin D from the sun of supplements.

Some whole foods are naturally more inclined to support mental and emotional health, which you may like to introduce into your weekly nutrition plan.

Added into a well-balanced diet, these foods can help you create a recipe for mental and emotional wellbeing.

Cacao Powder

Cacao powder is a natural product made from fermented cacao beans that are not heat treated. Cacao is a rich source of a broad range of nutrients, particularly minerals and phytochemicals.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), cacao is rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron. In fact, Cacao is around 2% potassium by weight and 0.8% magnesium, making it a plentiful in natural electrolytes 2

Cacao contains a powerful polyphenol called epicatechin, known to promote nitric oxide production and blood flow, including circulation to the brain. Cacao also offers benefits to cognitive function and mood 3 .

A comprehensive survey of 13,626 north American adults showed that there was a positive association between increased dark chocolate intake and reduced depressive symptoms 4 . The main ingredient in dark chocolate is of course cocoa, while cacao is the raw and more nutrient-rich equivalent. 

To top it all off, cacao has been shown to promote the survival of brain neurons, support synaptic plasticity and enhance cognitive abilities 5 . This makes cacao powder a bonified natural nootropic and mood enhancer that should be at the top of the shopping list.

Though cocoa is typically consumed in milk chocolate form along with refined cane sugar and dairy products, pure cacao powder offers the means to enjoy this superfood daily without the additional ingredients.

Try some in your next smoothie, protein shake, batch of protein balls or even sprinkled over granola. A little sweetener, like raw honey, monk fruit or stevia extract, helps to cover the bitter notes and bring out some serious natural chocolatey indulgence

Maca Powder

Maca root has been used as a medicinal food for thousands of years in Peru, which is why it is often referred to as Peruvian Ginseng. And like many of the Ginsengs, they offer robust total body health support.

Maca is helpful for restoring physical energy and supporting on-going optimal health, supporting a healthy mental outlook and helping to elevate moods. This effect may occur by promoting dopamine signaling in the brain 6 .

Maca has been shown in clinical trials to reduce psychological symptoms, such as low moods and mild anxiety 7 . This makes Maca root powder a quality natural product for anyone wanting to keep energized and mentally elevated.

Simply add to smoothies, fresh juice, protein shakes or other superfood powders for a natural kick. Maca is particularly helpful for restoring energy levels after illness. 

Linseeds & Chia Seeds

Maca root has been used as a medicinal food for thousands of years in Peru, which is why it is often referred to as Peruvian Ginseng. And like many of the Ginsengs, they offer robust total body health support.

When it comes to keeping your essential fatty acids in balance, no plant-based foods are more important than chia seeds and linseed (flaxseeds).

The human body requires two fatty acids for preventing deficiency disease and maintaining optimal health, which are Linolenic Acid (Omega 3) and Linoleic Acid (Omega 6).

Unfortunately, the western diet contains far too much omega 6, much of which is consumed in an oxidized (rancid) state, which makes matters even worse 8.  This leads to increased chronic inflammation, oxidative stress (free-radical damage) and an increased risk for a number of chronic diseases.

It is believed that humans require a ratio of approximately 1:1—that is 1 gram of omega 6 for every 1 gram of omega 3. However, current western dietary trends are around the 15:1 to 17:1 mark, indicating that our omega 6 intake is far too high 9.  

This is where the humble chia seed and linseeds step into the equation, ready to help you balance out your dietary fatty acids by delivering epic 1:3 and 1:4 ratios, respectively.

Omega 3 fatty acids are incredibly important nutrients for human health, especially mental health 10.  Research published in 2020 by BMC Psychiatry indicated that Omega 3 fats are useful for the management of low moods and depressive states 11 , 12

Turmeric Root

Turmeric root has risen in popularity due to its powerful natural anti-inflammatory benefits, with most people supplementing for its anti-arthritis benefits.

However, turmeric does a great deal more than relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis. This nutrient-loaded root is a rich source of phytochemicals, such as curcumin, vitamins and minerals.

To get the absolute most out of your turmeric powder, no matter why you’re using it, mix it with black pepper to increase the absorption from the gut into the bloodstream, right where it is needed!

In fact, one study showed that black pepper increases curcumin absorption or bio-availability by a massive 2,000%. That’s 200 times the absorption 13 

To achieve this, mix turmeric root and black pepper in a 100:1 ratio. To be clear, this means 100g of turmeric root can be mixed with 1 gram of black pepper powder 14 

To further enhance absorption, consume your daily turmeric root fix with a meal containing fats. Or, mix the turmeric and black pepper blend into a fat, such as pasture fed ghee, perhaps with a little raw honey to take the edge off, and consume straight from the spoon.

As cumin is a fat-soluble compound, the fats also boost the uptake of this powerful compound, thereby enhancing its natural health benefits.

Apart from the amazing anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and blood sugar lowering properties of turmeric root, it helps to keep our mood elevated 15 

A research article published in 2017 that examined all of the turmeric studies to date (called a meta-analysis) indicated that it assists with the management of depressive symptoms 16 

Green Tea

After water, tea is the second most popular beverage in the world—even more popular than coffee  17 ! Tea is prepared from the Camellia sinensis plant, from which black tea, green tea, oolong tea and white tea are all created. 

Camellia sinensis naturally contains caffeine and a broad range of antioxidant polyphenols, known to have numerous health benefits.

Green Tea and White tea are the preferred forms of Camellia sinensis tea for the health conscious, which contain a rare amino acid called L-Theanine offering anti-stress and mild anti-anxiety benefits 18  19 .

L-Theanine has risen to popularity due to its profound effects on the mental state, albeit positive ones. This amino acid has been shown to enhance alpha brain waves, assisting with calmness and mental relaxation 20 

Additional research demonstrates depression preventative effects of regular Green Tea consumption, which may be related to increase dopamine signaling and/or synthesis in the brains 21 .

This scientific finding has been backed-up by further findings showing that in elderly populations, Green Tea consumption was associated with a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms 22 .

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