Tips for teachers - managing your own mental health: nutrition
When talking about nutrition, my preference is to avoid the word ‘diet’ as it has too many negative connotations for lots of people. So, when talking about nutrition I am not necessarily talking about weight loss. Instead, I am talking about the increasing evidence that good nutrition improves mood and mental well-being. What you eat does have an impact on your mental health. Research is increasingly showing that your gut biome (the bacteria in your intestines) has an impact on your mood and mental health to such an extent that some are referring to our guts as the ‘second brain’.
The gut and the brain are connected directly by the vagus nerve. The brain uses information from the gut, sent through this nerve, to figure out how the body is doing. If things aren’t going well in the gut, then that has an impact on how we feel. Research studies in mice have shown that by improving their gut biome their mood can be improved. Studies have reported growing evidence that your microbiome has a role in influencing the brain chemistry that influences susceptibility to anxiety and depression. Guilia Enders, author of Gut: The Inside Story of our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, also points out that about 80% of our immune system is located in the gut. So, our ability to maintain our physical and mental health would appear to be dependent on a healthy gut biome.
So how do you improve your gut biome? Dr Chatterjee, resident doctor on BBC One’s Breakfast Show, tells us that vegetables are your best option. He emphasises that the ‘5 a day’ concept works best for your gut when if you consume 5 different portions of vegetables and while fruit is still important, it is vegetables that the gut does best on. He suggests the following to help support a healthy gut:
- omega 3 fatty acids (found in oily fish, soy beans, flaxseed and linseed oil)
- onions, garlic and leeks
- Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower
- dark chocolate
- red wine (but remember… too much is not good for you!)
This type of nutritional intake is broadly similar to that of Mediterranean countries and has been shown to reduce incidents of cardiovascular disease even when taking into account the fact that all that sun must make you feel better! Dr Chatterjee goes on to tell us that there are several places in the world where there are pockets of good health with less chronic disease. The people in these places must have lifestyles that are conducive to good health and nutrition is part of that.
Although nutritional intake is different in the various locations, they share the following commonalities:
- None have a processed food culture By and large, they eat fresh, unprocessed, local produce.
- They all sit down and eat meals together.
- They eat what is in season.
- They have treats, but only at very special times such as Christmas and Easter, not every day after school, or every Friday or Saturday.
As you can see the elements above; a lack of processed food, eating fresh in season food, and limiting ‘treats’, will all benefit your gut biome. Add to this the benefits of sitting down with people to eat as a social experience, and you have a potential recipe for good mental health.