Nutrition to support and boost mental health

We fuel our bodies with the food we eat and are generally aware of the benefits of re-fuelling with food that is healthy and nutritious – but what about the brain? 

We are very conscious about the fact that the foods that we eat could have an impact on our physical appearance and also the health of our internal body.  But what about other important factors that create balance in our overall wellbeing such as energy levels, mood, thoughts, behaviours and our ability to concentrate.

Feeling good isn’t determined solely by our physical appearance, in fact for many of us, this is only very small factor.

Go with your “gut feeling”

Have you ever felt that sensation inside when making decisions or had butterflies in your stomach when getting nervous?  At these moments, you are getting signals from your ‘second brain’. The gut. Your digestive system contains a link with mood, health and the way you think.  This is what scientists call the enteric nervous system (ENS).  This system consists of 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract. Should you compromise your gut health, this can put pressure on your brain function and lead to mental health conditions. 

“The enteric nervous system doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain—with profound results.” explains Jay Pashricha .M.D, director of the Johns Hopkins Centre for Neuro-gastroenterology, whose research on the enteric nervous system has garnered international attention. “For decades, researchers and doctors thought that anxiety and depression contributed to these problems. But our studies and others show that it may also be the other way around,” Pasricha says.

What are good brain foods?

These are generally foods that contains nutrients such as:

  • B Vitamins
  • Omega-3
  • Selenium
  • Tryptophan
  • Resistant starch

Energy

Slow-release carbs are good for maintaining energy within the body and brain. “Healthy carbohydrates that are minimally processed, such as whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and legumes, have been found to positively contribute to heart, gut, and brain health,” says Katey Davidson, a registered dietitian and founder of Taste of Nutrition.

Nutrition in the workplace

Nutrition is one area that is often overlooked with corporate wellbeing as many organisations and programs tend to focus on physical activity and mental health initiatives like mindfulness, and yet good nutrition is equally as important for your overall wellbeing.

The World Health Organization (WHO) found that optimal nourishment can raise productivity levels by 20%. Healthy employees are happier, calmer, more engaged, sleep better and get sick less often. 

It’s a ‘no brainer’ really that employers provide healthy food options for their employees to benefit both the individual and the organisation.

How can you improve employee nutrition?

  • Review what you supply and offer either in vending machines, canteens or cafes, and look at how improvements can be made.  Could you begin to include onsite lunches or food deliveries for meetings and events or provide a weekly fruit bowl. Small cost with big benefits.
  • Make filtered water available to your employees and encourage them to drink more of it.
  • And finally, offer healthy eating information and education. 

If we begin to understand the importance of nutrition how value it as much as physical fitness, sleep and mental health, then the key pillars of wellbeing will be well on the way to being met, and employees will be content and productive.

EmpowerPlan Employee Assistance portal contains numerous methods for educating employees on a great number of wellbeing topics including nutrition.  There are diet plans and recipes to help encourage and support your employees with their overall wellbeing.