“Let thy food be thy medicine.”—Hippocrates
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that good nutrition, along with ample sleep and good exercise, provide fuel that promotes your health, mood and mindful productivity at work. But, if you struggle with making nutritious choices regularly, you are not alone. Making healthy, nutrition-packed choices can be a difficult undertaking. March is National Nutrition Month—a month to raise awareness to how proper nutrition can impact every aspect of your life, not just physical health, but also your professional brain health. During this month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics promotes the transformative powers of healthy food choices. It’s not a federal holiday so we don’t get time off from work, and we don’t have fireworks or give presents, but you can still celebrate. What if you were to take a breath, step back and, during the month of March (and beyond if possible), make it a point to be mindful of making food choices that boost your brain health, well-being and productivity?
“Connection between food and mood is becoming not only more well known, but also more well researched,” said Dr. Teralyn Sell psychotherapist and brain health expert, “It is no secret that inflammatory foods such as sugar have played a pivotal role in physical health and now we have made the connection to mental health as well. Neurotransmitter pathways (brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin) rely on a variety of nutrients to create the transmission. You are what you eat is a catchy saying, but one that holds true. Your mood relies on your food.”
This year’s theme for National Nutrition Month is “Personalize Your Plate”. So, before getting started, ask yourself if your plate promotes overall physical and mental health. Here are Dr. Sell’s top 4 foods to help promote your overall health, mood and mindfulness:
Proteins are a top priority for mental well-being. Proteins offer the brain the amino acids it needs to create neurotransmitter pathways. The second thing proteins do is stabilize blood sugar. When blood sugar is not stable, you can feel more depressed or anxious. Protein helps regulate blood sugar balance and prevents mood highs and lows. Animal proteins tend to have the most benefit for mental health such as meats, poultry, dairy, cheese and eggs. Plant proteins such as beans, peas, grains and nuts can also be used, but pay careful attention to food pairing for complete protein.
#2: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Researchers have been investigating the impact of omega-3 fatty acids on mood and have found that two omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have the most potential to benefit those with mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Omega-3 fatty acids are also considered anti-inflammatory, which can help with depression. You can find omega-3 fatty acids in fish and other seafood, especially cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines, nuts and seeds—such as flax-seed, chia seeds and walnuts.
#3: B Vitamins
B Vitamins are essential nutrient co-factors for brain wellness and immune function. B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning they can’t be stored in the body; so, you need to get them through the foods you eat (or supplementation) every day. Some of the best sources of B vitamins include meat, poultry, fish, avocados, citrus fruits, legumes, eggs and whole grains.
#4: Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for mood and is one that is often overlooked. Vitamin D is often fortified within the foods that we eat. We can get vitamin D through sun exposure (primarily through the eyes and skin), through proper supplementation, fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, and salmon) and foods fortified with vitamin D, like some dairy products, orange juice, beef liver, cheese and egg yolk.
“Foods are an important factor for mental and emotional well-being,” Dr. Sells said. “Many foods can aid in increased focus and cognitive function, relaxation and even stress reduction.” The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explains that National Nutrition Month can be an extension of New Year’s resolutions to help us keep crushing our wellness resolutions: “This month gives us an opportunity to reflect inward and make tangible changes to our diets or workout regimens. It could be as simple as adding another veggie or fruit to every meal.”