Discover foods to support your mind this World Mental Health Day

A plate with a picture of a brain on to represent eating healthily to support a sharper brain

World Mental Health Day is taking place this week. There is a greater focus on mental health generally right now, so never has there been a better time to discuss the topic more openly. 

Importantly, it’s also the perfect time to be looking at the connection between certain foods and nutrients and their effects on emotional wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares five foods to support a healthy mind.

Oysters

Not only called the food of love because they’re known to be ‘aphrodisiacs’, oysters are rich in the mineral zinc, which is essential for mental wellbeing.  This is partly because zinc is one of our busiest minerals, being used in over 300 different enzyme reactions in the body, plus the brain naturally contains zinc.

A plate of fresh oysters

There’s much research to suggest its positive benefits in cases of depression and zinc is known to be depleted in UK diets.  This is partly because it’s rich in whole grain foods, rather than refined ones which tend to feature too highly in the typical daily diet.  However, seafood in another great source and oysters are certainly top of the list.  Don’t wait for the next Valentine’s Day to enjoy a romantic oyster dish!

Bananas

Bananas are rich in vitamin B6 which is essential for producing our happy hormone ‘serotonin’.  Plus, vitamin B6 is needed for energy release, so you get the best of both worlds.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Bananas make a perfect snack, especially when you’re on the run. They also make an excellent pre-workout snack for an extra boost so you can push your body that bit harder!

Broccoli

Often referred to as a super food, broccoli delivers health benefits in so many ways.  Importantly, broccoli (and other green, leafy vegetables) are high in the mineral magnesium, which is needed to produce brain neurotransmitters, but also has a calming effect on the body generally.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Anxiety levels are soaring right now, in all age groups, so we all need to be mindful of specific nutrients that can help calm both mind and body.  Stress depletes magnesium, so it’s even more important to be loading up on greens.

And rather than just serving up plain boiled or steamed broccoli, why not lightly toss it in some pesto and pine nuts before serving, to add some interest to your plate.

Mackerel

Mackerel is a tasty and super-healthy oily fish that’s loaded with omega-3 fats.  These fats are essential to have in the diet because the body can’t make them, and they are critical for brain health, because the brain naturally contains them.

Fresh mackerel with lemon and herbs on foil ready to be baked

The National Diet and Nutrition Surveys confirm that the UK population is very deficient in omega-3s across all age ranges.  The recommended weekly amount is at least two portions of oily fish (salmon is also great), to try and redress the balance.

Mackerel is such a versatile fish. Try it chargrilled, in salads (it’s especially good with beetroot) or as made a pate. It is also delicious pre-smoked in a risotto, or gently pan-fried and served with rice or potatoes and your favourite veggies.  If you’re in a rush, why not use some tinned mackerel on wholemeal toast for a quick and incredibly healthy and filling lunch.

Blueberries

Blueberries are loaded with vitamin C, another nutrient that’s essential for good brain health.  Vitamin C is also one of our most powerful antioxidants which are very protective of the brain. Even better, blueberries are rich in plant compounds called polyphenols, also packed with antioxidants; it’s their beautiful rich colour that’s partly responsible for their health benefits.

A wooden bowl of blueberries

Blueberries are low on the glycaemic index so, unlike many fruits, they won’t upset blood sugar levels which can also cause dips in mood.  Serve them with your morning porridge or cereal or eat them with some natural yoghurt and seeds, for a healthy and quick, energy-sustaining breakfast.

So, include nutrients and foods in your diet that feed your brain and help support your brain from the inside out.

Stay well.

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Five acts of self-kindness to support your mental well-being

Relaxed woman looking happy sitting outside at a table overlooking a garden

It’s Mental Health Awareness week and with the current lockdown restrictions in place, never has our mental health come into such sharp focus. 

Life is very challenging at the moment for many people. Now is the perfect time to be kind to yourself and focus on your own mental wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top tips for self-care and self-kindness.

Focus on food

What we eat has the most profound effect on mental well-being as anything.  Nothing works in isolation in the body, therefore everything we eat has a massive impact on our brain and emotional health.

As an example, there have been numerous research studies to confirm that diets high in junk foods cause low energy, increased anxiety, poor sleep, nutrient depletion, and of course, weight gain. Be kind to your brain and body and feed it with nutrient dense foods.

A range of vegetables on a wooden background

Make your meals as colourful as possible, including plenty of fruits and vegetables as these are some of the most nutrient-dense foods available to us.  If you can’t always get fresh, then stock up on frozen which are just as good as they retain most of their nutrients having been frozen soon after harvesting.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

Omega-3 fats are needed by the brain for it to function at its best. Found in oily fish, flax seeds and other nuts and seeds try to eat some regularly.  Eating whole grain foods rather than ‘white’ refined ones is also important, delivering plenty of B-vitamins and other key nutrients needed to balance stress hormones and instil a sense of wellbeing.

Keep well hydrated

With the body consisting of around 70% water it makes sense that we need to keep well hydrated to ensure the body can perform all its vital processes.  Dehydration also affects mental wellbeing; you can end up feeling foggy, edgy, confused and energy levels will be much lower.

A close up of a woman holding a glass of water to represent staying hydrated

Caffeinated drinks will cause more anxiety, so keep these to a minimum and instead try some herbal or fruit teas.  Ginseng tea is incredibly restorative, camomile is calming, and mint tea helps digestion.  Don’t forget to also drink plenty of water – around 1 ½ – 2 litres daily is ideal.

Start the day positively

During difficult times, such as now, that brief moment when you open your eyes can often fill you with dread.  What challenges is the day going to bring?  When you wake up, make a point of thinking of three things you are grateful for.

A close up of a typewriter with the word gratitude typed

It doesn’t matter how small they are; it can be something as simple as being able to start a new book or planning a different walk that day.  If you start the day on a more positive mindset, it will help you to cope better throughout the day.

Avoid the word ‘should’

It’s probably one of the most overused words in the English language: we often feel that we ‘should’ be doing something, and this can put more pressure on ourselves.  The word can also convey very negative messages to the mind.  Just because you may have more time on your hands, doesn’t mean you ‘should’ do things that are not going to make you feel good.

A road splitting into three to represent choices

Tell yourself you have a choice – rather than what you ‘should’ do, think about what you ‘want’ to do. Do something that makes you happy, such as watching a movie you’ve been meaning to see or phoning a friend you haven’t spoken to for a while.  Try not to allow your thoughts to drift into a negative or nagging territory and go with your feelings rather than the voice on your shoulder.

Invest in yourself

Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn or a job you’d love to do?  Whilst big changes do take time, learning anything new can be very empowering.

Close up of a woman's hand writing a to do list in a journal

There are so many educational, practical or creative things available, especially at the moment.  We never stop learning and when we’re learning we’re growing as people.  If you’re struggling with self-esteem issues right now, then there are plenty of self-help books, podcasts and webinars available to set you on the right path.  Take some time to make a list of things you’d like to know or do and then give yourself plenty of self-love when you’ve achieved one, however small.

There’s never been a better time to care of our mental wellbeing, as well as supporting the health of others.

Stay well.

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

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Keep on walking during lockdown: why walking is so important for your health

Woman walking her dog

May is National Walking Month which actually falls at a really appropriate time.  Whilst many of us are on lockdown, and currently restricted on where and how far we can walk, now is the perfect opportunity to make those walks really count and enjoy their wonderful health benefits.

Whether you’re doing a circuit of your neighbourhood or have fields, trails or woods on your doorstep, getting out and about every day is an essential part of staying well.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares why walking is so important for both your physical and mental health.

Heart Health

Walking is great for the heart both from a physical and emotional perspective.  Clearly time outside is limited at the moment, so make the most of every step.  Why not challenge yourself each week and try to get a little further every time?  This means you’ll be walking faster, which in turn raises the heart rate.

CLose up of two hands making a heart shape with the sun in the background

The heart is a muscle that needs to be worked like any other.  Therefore, aim to walk at pace in order to raise your heart rate and fully benefit.  This will help circulation, improve lung capacity, tone the legs and support weight management.  You can burn up to 300 calories in half an hour if you up the pace.

Wmoan outside looking joyful

Just being outside in the fresh air is also great for the soul.  If you’re feeling cooped up indoors, just getting out for an hour can be amazingly restorative.  The adage about ‘clearing your head’ really can happen when you’re out for a walk.  Plus, it’s still possible, depending on where you live, to meet up and walk at a social distance from a friend or relative, if you’re feeling isolated.

Joint Health

Now the gyms are closed, there are many more people out jogging right now, which is a great form of exercise.  However, it can be tough on the joints, especially the knees.  One of the many wonderful things about walking is that you can get fit without joint trauma; it’s much more comfortable for the body generally, and it may even ease joint plain.  Plus, if you tackle some hills, you’ll be getting a great workout for your butt!

A woman with a rucksack enjoying a walk outdoors in a forest

Our legs need to be worked for them to retain and build muscle. Therefore, if this is the only form of exercise you’re able to do right now, try to make it count and do a meaningful march every time you head out for a walk.

Blood sugar levels

Blood sugar needs to be in balance so that you’re also balanced emotionally and physically.  When levels fall, that’s when you get the tell-tale loss of concentration and irritability.  Importantly, it’s key to weight control because excess sugar in the blood stream is stored as fat.

Walking after a meal has been shown to keep blood sugar levels in good balance (even 15 minutes around the block is effective) and any excess calories you’ve eaten will be less likely to be stored as fat.

Immunity

Exercise in general boosts immunity by uprating the production of white blood cells, which are key to immune function.  For athletes and serious exercisers, too much exercise can actually deplete immunity, so more protection of the immune system is needed through nutrition and supplementation. However, for recreational exercisers, it’s an amazing way to put yourself in the best position to fight off any colds and other viruses, so get out there!

Close up of a doctor holding a blackboard with Immune System written on it in chalk

If it’s a sunny day you will also be getting some of the immune-boosting vitamin D. Vitamin D is made on the skin in the presence of sunlight – another great reason to spend more time outdoors.

Energy and positivity

Because walking increases blood flow and, therefore, oxygen around the body, you’ll naturally feel more energised after a walk.  And this oxygen will also reach your brain, allowing your head to feel clearer, and often more creative.

Close up of woman with arms outstretched, smiling in a forest

Walking is a great time for thinking, planning, problem-solving and being aware of the environment around you.  It’s amazing how much more positive you can feel even after just a short walk.  Use the time for just being ‘you’ if you can. Be mindful and enjoy your surroundings – if you’re lucky enough to have a lovely view or open space on your doorstep, then that’s an added bonus.

So, embrace National Walking Month and you’ll definitely be rewarded with some wonderful health benefits.

Stay well.

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Enjoying the great outdoors even though we might feel stuck indoors

Close up of woman's trainers to represent walking

Our movements are obviously restricted at the moment as to how much we can enjoy being outside.  It’s therefore more important than ever to maximise outside time to give you the most benefit, both mentally and physically. 

There’s always some positivity that comes out of adversity, even if it’s only that we become more appreciative of the world around us.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares the benefits of why we should all be spending some time outdoors during the lockdown.

Mental wellbeing is top priority

There’s never been a more important time to take good care of your mental health.  With these challenging times, feelings of depression and anxiety are much more common.  However, one of the best antidotes to this is getting outside and feeling the fresh air on your skin.

Woman walking over a bridge on the outskirts of the city

The sense of freedom is palpable.  Most importantly, taking a walk, the brisker the better, will help release those feel-good endorphins, and in turn elevate your mood.  It’s also a great opportunity to have some ‘me’ time; listen to a podcast, some music or reflect and take a moment to just be.

Make the time count

It’s also the perfect time to use the great outdoors for meaningful exercise.  If you’re normally a gym-goer or exercise indoors, taking it outside can add a whole new dimension to an exercise routine. The body needs to be challenged in order for strength and fitness levels to improve.  And it’s not too difficult to devise an outdoor exercise plan, improvising where necessary.

Close up of woman doing an arm stretch outdoors

There are so many exercises you do indoors that can be included outside; squats, lunges, press ups, sit ups, leg raises, tricep dips – the list is endless and there are plenty of on-line plans to help.

Jogging is also becoming increasingly popular during these times.  However, if none of these are your bag, walking briskly for at least 30 minutes is great and really helps boost circulation, which in turn helps brain function.

Get on your bike!

This is a great exercise that can be done either alone or with your household family members.  Regardless of our situation right now, the need to protect the climate means anything we can do to help lessen carbon emissions is a positive outcome, so why not use this time to make a start?

Woman mountain-biking

On average, cycling burns around 500-600 calories an hour, depending on the terrain and intensity of exercise.  However far you cycle, it will certainly aid calorie burn particularly when life means we are all being more sedentary than usual right now.

Become a stargazer

Getting outdoors doesn’t always need to be in the hours of daylight.  Studying the night sky is fascinating, plus potentially slightly easier now with less pollution around.  Clearly, there’s a lot to know but it makes for interesting learning and may turn out to be a newly acquired hobby.

Shooting star across the night sky

Depending on where you are, you’ll be seeing different vistas. But with an ever-fluctuating pattern of stars, planetary activity and the moon’s changes, you could quickly become hooked.

Become a nature-lover

It’s important to maximise and cherish your time right now.  It’s also the perfect opportunity to learn new skills and take up additional interests, and what better than one which takes you outdoors. If you’re going for a daily walk, spend time getting to know the nature around you. There are so many fascinating aspects of the natural world to enjoy, whether it be landscapes, plant-life, pond-life, birds or sea-life depending on where you live.

Woman walking through a forest glade

With natural life re-emerging after a long winter, there’s plenty to see.  If you live in a big town or city then seeing nature at its best might not be possible right now, but why not pick a topic and read up on it before seeing it for real.

There’s a whole world outside so try to get out there and enjoy it as much as possible (observing social distancing and current guidelines of course).

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

All images: Shutterstock