I’ve recently become very interested in nutritional psychiatry, or how what you eat affects your brain and the way that it functions. You may have seen that I’ve been doing a mental health + food collaboration with @toddlerandtoast on the ‘gram, but thought I would pop all of the great info onto a post here for you as well. We’re doing four weeks of info and recipes so keep your eyes peeled for daily posts (on the ‘gram) and weekly roundups (here on the blog).
Depression is the most common mental health problem in the UK (Mind). It is an illness that has been increasing in prevalence and decreasing in the age of onset over the recent decades. It should therefor come as little surprise that the use of antidepressants is also on the rise, for children as well as adults. There is, without a doubt, a very real and necessary place for medication in mental healthcare, however there are also non-chemical therapeutic interventions that have been proven to be just as effective in treating mild to moderate depression. Diet and nutrition is one of these.
Certain foods and nutrients are known to have a positive correlation with mood, and therefor depression. Such as, B3, B6, B12, folic acid, magnesium, and zinc (you can Google these for more information, just be sure to look at who your source is – any NHS website would be a great place to start!). Eating more tryptophan containing-foods (like pork, chicken, seeds and walnuts) will also support mood, as tryptophan is an amino acid that the body converts to serotonin – your feel-good neurotransmitter. Folic acid is also potentially significant as a study done at Kings College Hospital in London found that a third of all people with depression and other psychiatric disorders were deficient in this neurotransmitter-balancing nutrient. *Note: while many people with depression see improvement by increasing folic acid, some people – those with high histamine levels – get worse. It’s worth keeping an eye on.
There are also things which we know work against the body when it comes to our mood, such as processed foods, blood sugar imbalances and alcohol.
Salmon and egg fried rice and veggies. Here is the recipe for the egg fried rice:
1 cup brown rice
1 cup frozen peas
1 broccoli head cut into florets
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp low salt soy sauce
1 tbsp garlic paste
Cook brown rice as according to packet. In a large frying pan, add the oil, rice, veggies and garlic, and push everything to one side and crack the three eggs onto the pan. Mix it all together until the egg and veggies are cooked. Cook salmon according to preference.
Do you know why alcohol, cannabis and tranquilizers are very often the drugs of choice for many adults suffering with anxiety? It’s because they all promote GABA, a neurotransmitter and amino acid, as well as the brain’s peacemaker. GABA helps to turn off adrenalin, calming you down and effectively moving your brain and body into a lower gear. Your body makes GABA from glutamate and glutamic acid, which are found in grass-fed meats, eggs, dairy, fish, sea vegetables, tomatoes and mushrooms.
Taurine (GABA’s best friend) is another amino acid and it behaves much like GABA does, by helping your body relax from high levels of adrenalin. Animal sources, such as eggs, meat and fish are rich in Taurine, and so vegetarians and vegans are commonly deficient. And on the theme of deficiency, magnesium is a nutrient that many people are deficient in, and which is considered linked with anxiety. Food sources that are rich in magnesium include nuts and seeds, and green leafy vegetables.
*Supplementing amino acids or vitamins and minerals is always an option, but should be done with care and the proper advice.
Oat flour waffles – this recipe has been tweaked from one found on @cookieandkate.
½ cups oat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup of milk
¼ cup melted coconut oil
2 large eggs
2 tbsp maple syruo
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Add all ingredients to a bowl, mix well. Leave to rest for about 10 minutes and cook as per your waffle iron.
Schizophrenia is a severe and enduring mental health problem for which there is no cure. It is also an illness that is laden with stigma, which is often a barrier to treatment. Interestingly, while incidence rates are similar throughout the world, people who live in poorer countries and have schizophrenia tend to have better outcomes, suggesting that environmental factors play a role in determining severity and duration of symptoms (Mind).
How are schizophrenia and diet connected? Emerging research is showing a correlation between fats, particularly omega-3 fatty acid EPA (fish, fish oils, seafood, seaweed), and psychiatric and neurological disorders such as schizophrenia and ADHD – but more on the ADHD connection tomorrow! In a nutshell, lower intake levels of fat from birds and land animals have been connected to lower rates of schizophrenia. So where should you focus on getting your fats from? Well, this study suggests from vegetables, fish and seafood. Also, for those who already have schizophrenia, increasing EPA levels can reduce symptoms.
2 white potatoes, sliced into rounds
1 sweet potato, sliced into rounds
2 leeks, chopped into rounds
600ml veggie stock
3 tbsp double cream (optional)
Add potatoes and leeks to a large pan and boil in stock for five minutes. Drain and reserve the stock. Place potatoes and leeks in a casserole dish, cover with 200ml reserved stock and add cream. Bake at 200C for 20 minutes covered, and 20 minutes uncovered.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is controversial in that it is sometimes thought of (or rather, thought of by some) as a ‘wastebasket’ diagnosis. Essentially meaning that it has the potential to be used to label children with a wide range of symptoms and behaviors, some of who may be suffering from alternative conditions or circumstances. The introduction of Ritalin, the most common treatment strategy, is questionable at best (very ill advised, at worst) for these children with a potential misdiagnosis. Significantly, clinical research has shown that two particular food groups, essential fatty acids and minerals, have shown great improvements in ADHD symptoms. This is of particular importance as those with dyslexia, dyspraxia and unable to concentrate are often also deficient in essential fats, so modifying diet potential targets those with a true diagnosis of ADHD as well as some which may be misdiagnosed – either way, it seems like a great place to start!
Where do you obtain essential fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids (noted to be effective in reduction of ADHD symptoms)? Fish, fish oil, and seafood are excellent sources, as are chia seeds, flax, brussels sprouts, and walnuts. The minerals that have shown to be significant are iron, magnesium and zinc. If you remember from earlier posts, these are minerals that many are often deficient in, and they are all linked to hyperactivity. Food sources for these minerals are: legumes, shellfish, meat (zinc); nuts, seeds, whole grains, bananas, leafy greens such as spinach or kale (magnesium); spinach, lentils and beans, turkey or red meat, tofu, and fortified breakfast cereals (iron).
Plain yogurt with a choice of toppings, such as fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, maple syrup, honey, or even a drizzle of healthy (ish!) chocolate sauce by @sweetfreedomuk!
The gut-brain axis, have you heard of it? Perhaps you’ve noticed that when you feel anxious your stomach can feel all twisted up in knots? The gut-brain axis refers to the communication pathway between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. Simply put, the gut influences brain and behaviour, and vice versa.
Gut microbiota (or little gut bugs) regulate the gut-brain axis, and so having a healthy population of them helps to balance mood. Increasing your intake of veggies, as well as fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, is the best way to help these ‘gut bugs’ to proliferate. Good choices are cruciferous veggies (broccoli and cauliflower), artichokes, leeks, onions, and garlic.
1 cauliflower head cut into florets
3 garlic cloves
1 onion, diced
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
500ml+ hot stock
½ teaspoon paprika and turmeric
1 can coconut milk
Drizzle cauliflower florets in oil and roast with th garlic for 10 minutes at 200C. In a large pan soften garlic and potatoes with the paprika and turmeric. Add cauliflower, garlic and stock. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender. Blitz to desired consistency, stir through with coconut milk and warm through.
THE SOURCES AND WHERE TO FIND MORE INFO:
If you want to know more about nutritional psychiatry I would suggest starting with Patrick Holford’s Optimum Nutrition for the Mind. It’s full of the science but it’s also really easy to digest (excuse the bad pun!) and understand.
Lucinda Miller of @naturedockids has a fantastic cookbook out called The Good Stuff, which is hugely useful (I may even go so far as to say that it is essential) for the modern and health conscious parent. *Not an ad, just love the book.
*Photo by @simpleishliving