by Alyssa Madill, Feed the Fire Nutrition & Wellness –
As stress has been on the rise, so have supportive lifestyle suggestions like meditation, more sleep and nature therapy. But what about food? When you make wiser choices, seek support and eat well, you have a greater chance of beating stress. So let’s dive into a vital layer of wellness and consider how nutrition can positively impact mental health.
First, let’s talk blood sugar. Blood sugar balance, or glucose regulation, has a strong and often immediate impact on brain function because of the brain’s high demand for energy. For many folks, low blood sugar shows up as anxiety, if they go too long in between meals or eat simple carbohydrates that break down too quickly. When you are aiming for better blood sugar balance, be sure to include fat and/or protein with every meal and snack. When it comes to carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates like whole grains and legumes are much more blood sugar friendly. If you’re having simple carbohydrates like cookies, try to eat them in combination with more balanced foods. Or try having treats comprised of healthy fat with only a little sweetness, like chocolate avocado pudding.
Regardless of how the previous suggestions apply to your individual palette and health profile, you’ll likely notice big improvements in mental health when blood sugar is balanced, not to mention all of the other health benefits like hormone balance and disease prevention.
Aside from being excellent at supporting blood sugar balance, fat is a vital component of the brain, comprising about 60% of the structure. Not all fats are created equal, though: the best brain-friendly fats to consume daily are Omega 3 essential fatty acids, especially DHA and EPA. These fats are essential, meaning they must be consumed in the diet – our own bodies don’t make them. Excellent sources of Omega 3’s include cold water fish, algae, free range eggs and chia seeds. Consider talking to a professional about possible supplementation.
Another nutrient to highlight for stress reduction is vitamin B6: a necessary building block to form the calming neurotransmitter, GABA. Think of GABA as that chilled out friend that can de-escalate any situation (compared to that jumpy, hyper-vigilant friend who would be adrenaline). When you experience stress, your excitatory neurotransmitters will course through your system, sending signals for your body to react in a way according to the fight, flight or freeze mechanisms. All aspects of digestion slow down, your heart beats fast, your mind races – useful in dangerous situations, but not beneficial for the long term. GABA is the antidote to those excitatory neurotransmitters like adrenaline, coming in to reinstate digestive function and returning your body to a more restful state.
Not only do we need to provide the circumstances for a calm state of being (with positive lifestyle choices), we need to be sure we have the building blocks to make GABA, and maintain a healthy nervous system. B6 is one vital piece of this puzzle, and can be found in chickpeas, liver, salmon, and potatoes. Be Well!