We all know the benefits of good nutrition to our health. But most of us don't think about the mental health. Our focus is primary on physical health. However, there are evidences showing that what we eat can have an impact on our mental health as well as on our physical health.
So, improving our diet can help us with:
- improving our mood
- getting a higher level of energy
- getting a more clear thinking
Ok, but what can we do? What food should we choose to include in our diet? Don't you feel confused of the tremendous amount of information you can find out there about nutrition????
It is very difficult to know exactly what to eat when everything changes dramatically and what seemed to work a few years ago nowadays is totally wrong (more or less). But there are some principles to be followed and to take into account when you choose your food and also your children food.
What do we know?
Once you have a child you will soon understand that there is a hard job to keep your emotions balanced as kids are coming into our lives ready to explore and understand this world...which means they will do their best to reach their own goals. But how they choose to do it ..well...might be very different as compared to our expectations...And now it is coming into action our ability to keep calm and choose the best way to share our rules and limits. And NO, children are not here to act against us and to manipulate us. They are not making evil plans against us, they are just testing and exploring different reactions and situations. This is how they understand their limits and what's happening when they are doing something specific.
So, it is our duty to introduce them into our world, to show them how this world is working and how they can integrate.
Now, let's see why children mental health has become very important in the latest years. According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) "mental disorders among children are an important public health issue because of their prevalence, early onset, and impact on the child, family, and community."
Good! We know that mental health is important, that diet is important as well, but do they correlate and provide us a good or bad health? Well, spot on ...I found this interesting comparison between brain and cars, which is explained in this article:
"Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel. Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress.
Unfortunately, just like an expensive car, your brain can be damaged if you ingest anything other than premium fuel. If substances from “low-premium” fuel (such as what you get from processed or refined foods) get to the brain, it has little ability to get rid of them. Diets high in refined sugars, for example, are harmful to the brain. In addition to worsening your body’s regulation of insulin, they also promote inflammation and oxidative stress."
Studies have shown that young people are not guided to understand what a healthy diet means and what should they eat. So, we are growing up young adults who do not include in their diet the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables for example. Why is this happening?
Have you noticed our kids are imitating ourselves? What we are eating, they are eating as well, what we are doing, they are going to do (I also know those jokes: "Yeah, not sure how kids are imitating me as I am having broccoli and they refused to take dinner")...but in general this is true and I really believe in this law: Lead by example.
In the latest years we have noticed an increased interest showed by researchers in understanding the relationship between what children and adolescents are including in their diet and ... their emotional and behavioral problems. For example, in this study there have been found evidences of a significant relationship between unhealthy dietary patterns and poorer mental health in children and adolescents. Also, it has been observed a consistent trend for the relationship between good-quality diet and better mental health and some evidence for the reverse.
Another important discovering explained in this research is that unhealthy food is related to smaller parts of the brain that are critical to learning and memory, as well as mental health.
Also, another study shows there is a direct evidence that a higher quality of a diet is associated with a lower risk of depressive symptoms. Statistically has not been proved that the adherence to an unhealthy diet or food groups is associated with depression incidence.
Diet is such an important component of our mental health that it has inspired a new field of medicine named nutritional psychiatry.
What shall we do?
My opinion is that eating a KFC menu once in a while and drinking Coke soda is not going to make us suicidal, but keep going with these habits can get us in a place where we don't want to be: lack of energy, lack of getting up from bed, or going to the gym is one of our worst nightmares.
So, to get an extra helper for managing big emotions, include in your family diet:
- seasonably fruits
- seasonably vegetables
- raw nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, peanuts, almonds, pistachios, hemp, pumpkin, chia,etc)
- fish and lean red meats
- healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, dark chocolate,chia seeds, etc)
- quality food supplements (zinc, magnesium, omega 3, vitamins B and D - can help improve people’s mood, relieve anxiety and depression and improve the mental capacity of people with Alzheimer’s)
Also, we should pay closer attention to all the food ads and commercials, which influence our children to have preferences for their food.
What food to avoid?
Definitely, there are couple of things we should do our best to avoid as much as possible, but please make sure you do not reach at that point where you just get insane and brutal about what your family can eat.
Limits shared with love and understanding are more likely to be accepted, but those enforced by fears are going to work only for a short period of time.... and only in your presence...plus, I am sure that we do not want this to happen.
All we want is to create healthy food habits. And now it is time for a confession: I can so easily reach that point to get all the food limits enforced...but I am working with myself to manage my strong emotions and I understand this is not something beneficial for my kid, or myself and my family.
So, we should do our best to avoid:
- processed foods (they contain high levels of unhealthy fats, sugars and refined carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers with a detrimental impact on gut microbiota)
- refined sugars
- refined white starches (white rice, white bread, and crackers)
- hydrogenated oils
- artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers
It is highly important to pay attention to our food. If until recent years we were seeing this importance from a physical health perspective, nowadays researchers are stating that our diet can have a huge impact on our mental health as well.
It is easier to create healthy food habits, than to change them...but even so: nothing is impossible with the right determination and attitude. Keep doing what is healthy for you and your family...as hard as it might be. One day you will thank yourself for choosing the hard way, but with impressive benefits on the long run.
Raising happy and healthy little humans is one of the biggest responsibility in the world. It comes with difficulties and struggles, with huge responsibility, but also with love and gratitude, with amazing moments of joy.
Comment ⬇️⬇️⬇️ what you can start doing today to make an impact on your child's food habits?
With Love and Gratitude, Simina Serban
- CDC Report: Mental Health Surveillance Among Children — United States, 2005–2011
- Diet quality and depression risk: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies
- Food and Mood: What Is Nutritional Psychiatry?
- Nutritional psychiatry: the present state of the evidence
- Relationship between diet and mental health in children and adolescents: a systematic review
- Western diet is associated with a smaller hippocampus: a longitudinal investigation