Diet, nutrients and mental health: is there a connection?

4th September 2018

There are few things which I’ve avoided with such consistency as I have food, or rather cooking. Don’t get me wrong I love eating, I just can’t be bothered with the planning, preparation and cleanup. However my eyes have recently been opened to how individual nutrients contribute towards mental health – it’s called nutritional psychiatry. It’s not widely understood or practiced, and there is still limited research available, but the evidence that does exist supports a nutritional approach to mental health care.

Why is this so significant? Because medication is serious stuff. I’m a huge believer in holistic and natural treatments, changes which we can incorporate into our daily lives which will contribute to our wellbeing. From a parental standpoint, the drastically increasing rates of antidepressants in children and adolescents is hugely worrying and finding ways in which I can help my kids learn healthy and preventative habits weighs heavily on my mind.

Not too long ago I wrote a series of posts (in collaboration with @toddlerandtoast) about the importance of food, and specifically, the impact of nutrition on our mental health. The content shared was thoroughly researched, however, I’ve since deleted those posts. There has been a rise within social media of “experts” spreading questionable – sometimes even harmful – information, and while I don’t believe our collaboration can be defined in this way I still felt somewhat uneasy about disseminating knowledge which was outside of my field of understanding.

There are a few things that I would like you to know, though.

Throughout my reading a few key nutrients have been highlighted as significant to mental health, and these are omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium, and vitamins b, c and d. Without going too deeply into the science, neurotransmitters regulate and balance our moods, and these nutrients I’ve just mentioned play an important role in the brain’s production of neurotransmitters. Some widely available food sources for these nutrients are cold-water fish, eggs, spinach, broccoli, kale, nuts and seeds, legumes and sweet potatoes, however it is sometimes hard for the body to get enough magnesium and so many sources suggest also adding a supplement (but not magnesium oxide).

Enough of the science, onto the reality of life. What does all of this translate to with our family? Well, meal planning and prep isn’t my strength (to say nothing of the often-iffy execution) and so I decided to start by planning this week’s lunches for Andy and I. Basically, we’re both a whole lot less picky and I really wanted this food journey to go well so that I had encouragement to keep it up! I’m putting together a list of kid friendly recipes which incorporate lots of whole foods, complex carbohydrates, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, and I will start introducing these into the girls rotation soon. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Back to our weekly lunch plan, this is what’s on the menu:

Black Bean and Quinoa Salad – this one is vegan and so seriously delicious that I promise you won’t miss the meat! I found the recipe here.

Spinach, Broccoli and Basil Pesto Potato Salad – no recipe, I just chucked in what was left over in the fridge. It contains broccoli, spinach, basil, garlic, really good olive oil, parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper.

Purple Cabbage, Fennel and Apple Slaw – I stumbled across this recipe randomly as I was looking for a slaw that didn’t require mayo. It’s a major winner, and its without a doubt what I’ll most be looking forward to leading up to lunch.

Maple Glazed Carrots – again, no recipe. Just maple syrup, butter and a dash of salt and pepper. The trick is to use THE BEST maple syrup that you can get your hands on.

Hard-Boiled Eggs – you know what to do.

All three of these salads turned out so well and I’m really looking forward to them, but I may throw on some avocado or feta towards the end of the week, just for variety!

nutrients, nutritional psychiatry, diet and mental health, meal planning, vegetarian lunch

In all honesty, ‘homemaker’ is a term that would never (and I do mean never) be used anywhere within the same vicinity of me. I’m not ashamed of this, although I’m not particularly proud either! However, I do feel really motivated to change some of our family’s habits. I’m making a huge effort to be more present and involved in things like meal choices, and will be involving Poppy – and Tallulah when she’s old enough – in the cooking so that she can start to learn more about how important diet is to our wellbeing.

Some of the things which are helping us along our new food journey are glass Pyrex dishes (because I hate storing food in plastic – and plastic in general!), beeswax food wraps, and cotton carrier bags.

*These above items are affiliate links, which means that I will earn a small commission if you choose to buy them – at no additional cost to you! This is just one of the ways which I am able to help support my family. As always, I would never promote an item which I didn’t wholeheartedly believe in. 

I’d love to know what you think, is this post helpful? Would you be interested in seeing more about diet and it’s connection to mental health – perhaps with more of a focus on how this is translating into family/kid’s meals?

*Disclaimer, references and further reading: I am not a nutritionist and am sharing this information as one well-intentioned and (moderately) well-informed parent/person to another. Please bear this in mind when acting upon any suggestions or advice – which is actually a good idea in general, always consider the source before taking advice! A couple of the books which I recommend  and which I found enormously helpful are: Patrick Holford’s Optimum Nutrition for the Mind and Alan C. Logan’s The Brain Diet: The Connection Between Nutrition, Mental Health and Intelligence. If you would like any additional reading, or even just to chat, send me a message via the contact page.

*feature image credit: @elsas_wholesomelife

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