More information on how to maintain your mental health
The trauma specialist
Click here to hear Paula Madrid interviewed during the IDMH (Institute for Disaster Mental Health) conference. Note: If the link doesn’t work, click here and then scroll down to programme of 14th May.
The life coach
The sport psychologist
Fiona’s brain-boosting food tips and 5-day meal plan
EATING TO BEAT THE ‘BRAIN DRAIN’
Your ‘little grey cells’ are very greedy and require a constant, optimum level of fuel and nutrients. They are also ‘picky eaters’ however, so not just any old fuel will do. Countless research studies reveal that what, when and how you eat can boost the health and efficiency of your brain and greatly reduce your risk of mental health problems in the future. Preventative nutritional strategies are paramount and below are some of the main findings and relevant recommendations:-
WHAT SHOULD YOU EAT?
• Complex Carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits, brown grains, lentils, beans). The most important nutrient of all for the brain and nervous system is glucose. Any imbalance in the supply of glucose to the brain and you can experience fatigue, irritability, dizziness, insomnia, excessive sweating, poor concentration, forgetfulness, depression and blurred vision. The quickest and most efficient source of glucose is found in carbohydrates but to ensure a steady supply to the brain cells, these carbohydrates should be slowly digested and release their ‘sugars’ gradually into the bloodstream. These foods are also rich in fibre which improves gastrointestinal health, helps prevent constipation, lowers cholesterol and controls blood sugar. Many complex carbohydrates are also rich in B vitamins which are needed to help maintain healthy nerves and to produce the important neurotransmitters (brain messengers) that help maintain mood.
• Protein (lean meats, poultry, fish and shellfish, eggs, dairy products, beans and lentils, nuts, seeds and soy). Amino acids that come from the protein you eat are the building blocks of your brain’s network. Most neurotransmitters are made from protein and their complex interaction is what shifts your mood and changes your mind. One amino acid in particular (tryptophan) is responsible for promoting the production of serotonin which is often referred to as the ‘happy hormone’ because of its role in promoting feelings of calm (sleeping problems are often experienced when serotonin levels are low). Tryptophan is found naturally in cottage cheese, eggs, milk, halibut, beef and turkey). The addition of protein to meals and snacks further slows the digestion and release of the glucose into the bloodstream (see above).
• Essential Fats (oily fish, nuts and seeds and their oils and butters and avocados) are not only healthy, but play a vital role in brain function. These fats have been shown to form part of healthy cell membranes and are crucial to the wellbeing of our brain and nervous system. Your skin, hair and nails can provide a good indication of whether you are giving your whole body enough essential fats. Achieving velvety skin, shiny hair and strong nails should be your initial goal. Repeated studies show that a deficiency of ‘good’ fats correlate with low mood and intelligence, poor memory and lethargy.
• Antioxidant Nutrients (vegetables, fruits, herbs, seeds, sea vegetables, grains). The body protects itself from the potential damage caused by ‘free radicals’ by creating substances known as antioxidants, but in order to produce enough to quash these, there must be an adequate intake of various nutrients in the diet – particularly zinc, selenium, magnesium and vitamins A, C and E. Brain tissue is particularly susceptible to free radical damage because the membranes are rich in polyunsaturated fats which are easily oxidised and they are also low in natural antioxidants. The production of these ‘villains’ is increased by all types of stress on the body (psychological, environmental, physical and nutritional) so in addition to trying to reduce those stressors wherever possible, antioxidant-rich foods should form a major part of a brain-protective diet.
HOW + WHEN?
• Always have breakfast to stabilise blood sugar first thing in the morning
• Eat something every 2-3 hours to maintain the steady flow of glucose to the brain
• Include complex carbohydrates, a little protein and essential fats to further slow down the release of glucose (see meal/snack suggestions below).
• Stay hydrated to facilitate the vast number of biochemical reactions that help to ‘feed the brain’ (see ‘drinks’ below).
• Eat a ‘rainbow’ of fruits and vegetables to provide the antioxidant nutrients that help prevent free radical damage (get as many colours into your day as possible).
• Eat fresh, unprocessed food wherever possible
• Limit your intake of alcohol, coffee, tea, fizzy drinks, sugar, fried and ‘junk’ food which can stress the body and reduce the delivery of nutrients to the brain
• Exercise every day to increase the production of ‘feel good’ chemicals to the brain and the nervous system and boost cardiovascular health
• porridge made with water with chopped apple/pear, sprinkling of cinnamon, drizzle of honey and handful of toasted flaked almonds
• pot of natural ‘live’ yoghurt, a banana and a handful of mixed raw nuts
• 2 eggs (boiled, scrambled, poached, ‘omeletted’) + 2 slices dark brown toast (sliced or ‘soldiered’)
• couple of thick slices of dark brown toast with peanut or almond butter topped with sugar-free jam
• 3 rashers of lean organic bacon grilled with a large tomato (halved) and 2 giant mushrooms (drizzle flax or hemp seed oil, salt flakes and freshly ground pepper over the tomatoes and mushrooms after grilling)
have a small mixed salad or a bag/tray of raw baby vegetables before or with your lunch – bin those little packets of dressings and top instead with flax or hemp seed oil and lemon/lime juice
• a bowl of homemade or shop-bought soup (fishy, meaty, beany or vegetably NOT creamy) with a swirl of flax seed or olive oil added just before serving
• a medium-sized baked potato with a tablespoon of pesto, cottage cheese or hummus
• a wholemeal pitta pocket stuffed with salad leaves, cucumber and tomato topped with a small can of tuna in spring water and drizzled with walnut or flax seed oil
• half a tin/carton of tomato + basil soup mixed with half a tin of lentils, drizzled with flax seed oil just before serving
• a portion of ready made couscous topped with grilled mixed vegetables (from the deli) and a couple of slices of cooked chicken or turkey breast. Mix and heat quickly in a microwave or eat cold
choose one of the following and serve with at least 3 different steamed, grilled, stir fried or roasted vegetables (not potatoes or root vegetables) and/or a large mixed salad. Top your veg or salad with roasted mixed seeds or mixed beansprouts and drizzle with nut or seed oil (avocado, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, walnut, flax, hemp etc.) and a squeeze of lemon/lime juice
• a steamed skinless turkey or chicken breast topped with pesto or olive paste
• a poached salmon fillet/steak painted with Worcestershire Sauce
• a venison fillet/steak marinated for at least 10 minutes in olive oil, a couple of splashes of balsamic vinegar and ground black pepper, then grilled
• a couple of smoked mackerel fillets baked in the oven till hot
• a whole poussin (baby chicken) roasted, then skin removed
• a piece of fruit or a pack of chopped fruit and a chunk of Swiss cheese
• a few fresh dates stuffed with almonds or pistachios
• a pack of raw unsalted nuts or nuts and seeds
• a pack of raw baby vegetables dunked in a small pot of hummus, cottage cheese, tzatziki or guacamole
• a small carton from the ‘deli’ (3 bean, rice, carrot, mozzarella, tuna, couscous) – avoid mayo and creamy dressings
• a cooked chicken leg or breast (skin removed) or a cold boiled egg with a couple of oatcakes
• a couple of brown Ryvita with a tin of sardines
• water, water and more water (still or sparkling). Add ice and lemon, cucumber, strawberries + mint leaves
• fresh fruit juice (always 50:50 with sparkling or still water)
• fresh tomato juice with lots of Worcestershire Sauce (add some vodka + celery salt for a Bloody Mary!)
• a pot of fruit and/or herb tea (try some of them chilled for a refreshing drink)
• a glass of cold milk (skimmed or semi-skimmed)