When you think of teenage eating habits, what typically comes to mind? Pizza? Junk food? Soda? We choose to feed our children this “normal” teenage-friendly food without ever thinking it could be one of the culprits behind mental health issues. A growing amount of research is pointing towards eating habits and their ability to affect mental health.

Everyone knows that what you eat affects your body. Proper nutrition aids in feeling your best, maintaining a health body weight, reducing your risk of chronic diseases, and even has the ability to affect your mood. It the main source of fuel for our bodies. When we choose to give our bodies a diet rich in sugar, we are choosing to fill up with poor quality fuel. When we fuel our brains and bodies with nutritious, healthy foods, we would be providing our brains and bodies with the proper fuel required to positively affect our emotions and cognitive processes. Think of our brains as expensive vehicles that require premium fuel to operate at its best.

How Does Food Affect Mental Health?

The food we consume has the ability to make the biggest difference as it directly affects how our brains function. Eating quality foods containing antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals will fuel our brains in positive ways. Going back to the example of a high-end car, our brains can become damaged when we fuel them with non-premium fuel. Diets high in simple carbohydrates, such as refined sugars, actually have the ability to impair the way our brains function and cause mental health issues to worsen.

Carbohydrates, such as glucose, is responsible for producing serotonin, which gives us a “feel good” effect. Foods high in protein have actually been shown to improve alertness. In addition, healthy fats, such as omega-3, have been linked to actually reducing depression. Because our brains are unable to produce certain chemicals naturally, it is especially important to include these nutrients in our diets and our children’s diets.

What Foods Should I Incorporate Into My Child’s Diet?

Stating the obvious first, avoiding foods high in sugar are highly processed is the first step. A brain-friendly starter diet should include a lot of whole grains, produce, low-fat dairy, and lean protein. Working the following eight examples of food into your new diet will assist in protecting your brain, fighting fatigue, not to mention boosting your alertness and mood:

  • Blueberries
  • Avocadoes
  • Fish
  • Broccoli
  • Turmeric
  • Dark chocolate
  • Almonds
  • Eggs

Helping Your Child Understand the Importance of Nutrition

This is such an important time for our children. Not only are their eating patterns being established, this is also the time when mental health symptoms begin to appear. Getting teenagers to eat healthier can be a challenging task, but putting the work in now can not only improve their current well-being, it sets them up for successful dieting habits as adults.

Letting your children assist with food preparation has been shown to be a great start on the healthy-eating journey. Ensuring their access to access to processed, sugary, and high-fat foods is limited is the next step. You will also want to keep an abundance of produce on hand. Encouragement and small changes, such as offering sparkling water instead of soda, could lead to healthier choices in the future. This will not be an easy, overnight transition but your encouragement to make smarter choices will help them form habits that inevitably have a positive outcome on their overall well-being.

What now?

If you have read this far, it is safe to assume you see the value in proper nutrition for mental health purposes. If you begin by simply taking into consideration what your child is eating, and yourself for that matter, you can keep track of how certain foods make your child feel. Remember, changing your child’s diet will not improve their health overnight. It could take weeks, potentially months, to feel positive changes in the body and brain.

Start experimenting with different foods and keeping a journal. Have your child take note of how they feel when they eat certain foods. When they reach a point where they are feeling more alert, have increased levels of energy, and are happier in general, you will know that you have done something right. There is inevitably going to be an “aha moment” as you realize this new truth regarding nutrition and your child’s mental health.

Sources:

Diet and mental health (2017). Mental Health Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/d/diet-and-mental-health

The Link Between Food and Mental Health (2017). American Psychology Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/09/food-mental-health.aspx

Nutrition and Mental Health (2017). Familydoctor.org. Retrieved from https://familydoctor.org/nutrition-mental-health/