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  • Dietetics
  • 17.11.23

The gut-brain connection: How diet affects your mental health

When seeking ways to enhance our mental health, we often turn to medications or psychology as integral aspects of mental health care. However, there’s an additional, often underestimated ally that we mustn’t disregard: the role of nutrition.

Sharnie Dwyer, Grace Private Dietitian is an expert in gastrointestinal and women’s health and understands the connection between the gut and mental health. She says “what we eat can significantly impact our mental well-being, influencing mood, cognition, and emotional resilience”. The Grace Private team believes in a holistic approach and we recognise the connection between nutrition and mental health, so let’s talk about the power of food on your mental well-being.

The gut-brain connection

The connection between the gut and the brain can’t be denied. They are in constant communication with each other through a complex network of nerves, hormones and biochemicals. This is known as the gut-brain axis. What happens in your gut can affect your mood and vice-versa. 

Balancing hormones and moods

Women’s hormones play a pivotal role in regulating mood. Fluctuations in your hormones during your menstrual cycle and imbalance caused by conditions like PCOS are influenced by what we eat and how much we eat. Sharnie specialises in helping women achieve hormonal balance through diet and can help you make informed dietary choices that can help you stabilise blood sugar levels, manage weight and support hormonal balance, all of which may contribute to a more stable and positive mood.

Nutrition for mental clarity

There are a range of foods that impact your cognitive function and have brain-boosting qualities like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins for mental clarity and focus. By optimising your dietary intake you can ensure your brain gets enough of the nutrients it needs to improve your cognitive function. 

Nutrition to manage stress and anxiety

These days, stress and anxiety are common in our lives. Diet can help relieve these conditions and Sharnie can provide practical guidance on how to use nutrition to manage stress and anxiety. By incorporating stress-reducing foods and techniques into your diet to find a sense of calm and emotional resilience. 

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Foods that impact mental health

There are a range of foods that can impact your mental health and emotional well-being. Some examples include; 

  • Fatty fish: Salmon, mackerel, and trout are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial for brain health. They may help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Leafy greens: Spinach, kale, and other leafy greens are excellent sources of folate, which is associated with a lower risk of depression.
  • Berries: Berries like blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are high in antioxidants, which can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain, potentially improving mood.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients that support brain health.
  • Whole grains: Foods like whole wheat, brown rice, and oats provide a steady release of energy and can help stabilise mood by preventing blood sugar spikes and crashes.
  • Protein: Lean protein sources like poultry, lean beef, and tofu contain amino acids that are essential for the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which can positively impact mood.
  • Probiotics: Fermented foods like yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi are rich in probiotics, which can influence the gut-brain connection and potentially improve mood.
  • Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate with a high cocoa content contains antioxidants and may stimulate the production of endorphins, which can promote a sense of well-being.
  • Turmeric: This spice contains curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and may have potential antidepressant effects.
  • Green tea: It contains an amino acid called L-theanine, which can have a calming effect and improve focus.
  • Complex carbohydrates: Foods like sweet potatoes, beans, and lentils can increase serotonin levels in the brain, potentially improving mood and reducing anxiety.
  • Lean red meat: Red meat is rich in iron and zinc, which are important for mood regulation and cognitive function.

You can’t deny the power of food when it comes to your mental health. Dietary choices and adopting a holistic approach can greatly impact your mental health. If you’re finding it difficult to manage your diet on your own, our dietitian Sharnie has the expertise to give you the tools and nutritional advice to manage physical symptoms, while nourishing your mind and promoting emotional well-being. 

Sharnie returns from maternity leave on Monday 27 November and will be available for appointments on Mondays and Fridays. Book an appointment online today! 

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