Do you or someone you care about experience issues with brain fog, low energy levels, lack of calmness, or other anxiety symptoms? You may be interested to know that a healthier diet can be helpful.
The 4 nutrition areas that can especially influence your energy levels and your mental health include getting the appropriate balance of macronutrients at each meal, choosing healthy carbohydrates, nurturing a healthy gut, and getting adequate nutrients that support energy and neurotransmitters like serotonin.
Improving the Balance of Your Diet
Improving the balance of your diet can first and foremost improve your energy levels. When our energy levels improve, the return of motivation in our lives can help alleviate some of the depressive symptoms we feel from fatigue and brain fog. It begins with making food choices that support nutrient metabolism and blood sugar stability. At each meal, the Macronutrients involved include 2-4 servings of healthy carbohydrates, a protein source, along with fiber and healthy fats. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil for example. Our energy levels can also be low if we have a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is only found naturally in fatty fish or fish oils, mushrooms, egg yolks, and dairy products or plant milks fortified with vitamin D. A great source of vitamin D of course is sunlight. (15-30 minutes 2x/week at least as a recommendation).
The Interesting Thing About Carbohydrates: Energy & Mood
The human brain naturally produces a soothing neurotransmitter called serotonin which plays many important roles in the brain’s biochemistry, and it’s intimately involved with sleeping, maintaining an upbeat mood, self-confidence, even supporting healthy appetite and social engagement.
Foods high in simple carbohydrates, such as pasta, rice, white bread, pastries, and sugar filled treats typically increase insulin levels and allow more tryptophan (the natural amino acid building block for serotonin) to enter the brain, where the brain cells can convert it to serotonin. The calming effect of serotonin can often be felt within thirty minutes of eating these foods. This may be one of the reasons simple carbohydrates are so addictive. They can be used to make you feel happy but can also cause high blood sugar levels that can contribute to an energy “crash” later on. Also, chronic high blood sugar levels can lead to health issues like diabetes and weight gain.
So, what do we do about this? How can we still get the serotonin benefit along with the good nutrients for brain health that carbohydrates provide without the delayed “crash” or associated health concerns? Well, instead aim for complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, apples, blueberries, carrots, and garbanzo beans, as a healthier way to boost serotonin. Brain serotonin levels can also be raised by eating foods rich in L-tryptophan, such as chicken, eggs, cheese, turkey, beef, salmon, nuts, beans, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables.
Nurturing a Healthy Gut
Anxiety could be a signal that your digestion needs some attention. Especially if you have gastrointestinal issues you may not be able to appropriately absorb the nutrients needed to support your mental health. Supporting a healthy microbiome include again reaching for lots of fruits and vegetables along with whole grains to provide good fiber sources. Ideally healthy adults should aim between 20-35 grams of fiber daily. If you are on the low end – gradually increasing the above foods to reach this goal. If you have GI issues like constipation, bloating, diarrhea, or abdominal pain, consult with your doctor or work with a dietitian to improve the health of your gut.
Brighten your mood and sidestep negative thoughts with the nutrients that can help promote calmness, decrease irritability, and support a positive attitude. Nutrients plays an important role in managing anxiety by regulating neurotransmitters (like serotonin) and blood sugar. Certain nutrients can help metabolize and help utilize serotonin most efficiently. Some of these nutrients include magnesium, zinc, fish oils / omega 3’s, vitamins C and the B vitamins folate and B6. Iron is another nutrient that if deficient can leave us feeling irritable or fatigued and can affect our ability to focus. Iron is found in these foods: cereals, bread, fortified whole grains, dark leafy greens, red meat, chicken or fish, nuts, egg yolks. Iron is absorbed better when eaten with Vitamin C sources from fruits and vegetables. Eating a diet that incorporates these nutrients above can offer extra support during times of stress. Depending on which of these nutrients you are deficient a dietitian can create a nutrition plan that can cover the bases with food sources and supplementation.
Are You Making Enough Serotonin Naturally: 8 Signs of a Deficiency
- Poor cognitive functioning
- Food/drink cravings and binge eating
- Constipation and digestive disorders
- Sleep problems and insomnia
- Feeling overwhelmed and unhappy
- Anger and irritability or mood swings
Sometimes we may not produce enough serotonin to experience the calming, positive effects. Balancing your serotonin levels may help minimize emotional overeating and sleeplessness. Melatonin production is also supported by serotonin which is helpful for a good night’s sleep. If you take a medication that influences your serotonin or other neurotransmitters always check with your doctor before adjusting any doses.
What Can You Do Starting Today?
Begin by creating a grocery shopping list that incorporates some of the foods you like listed in this article. Regardless of whether you want to feel more energy, improve your mental health, or reach a healthier weight, visit with a Registered Dietitian to make sure you are getting the nutrients that you need. At Fluid Health and Fitness, we help people navigate individualized plans for success.
If you are looking for 2-3 visits to jumpstart your weight loss efforts or if you want to work with a Registered Dietitian long-term to make a significant transformation click here to set up a free 15-minute call to learn more.
Jen Sletten RD, MA
Registered Dietitian at Fluid Health and Fitness
Masters in Counseling Psychology