Nutrition critical in mental health

Monday November 4 2019

The food you eat plays a role in mental health

The food you eat plays a role in mental health and can even influence your mood. NET PHOTO 


Nutrition plays a big role in a person’s mental health. The quality of the food you eat can impact your overall physical and psychological health. We talked to Heather Cuthbert, a nutritional therapist, who delves into all the aspects of nutrition and the well-being. she believes that optimal nutrition is vital to a healthy functioning body and mind.

“How we think, feel and behave on a daily basis is influenced by the balance of various chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in our brain. When this process is working optimally our brain chemistry is said to be balanced and we respond appropriately and positively to the outside world.

There are numerous different neurotransmitters that influence how we think and feel.
Serotonin, better known as the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter, helps to improve one’s overall mood. It also gets further metabolized into melatonin a very important antioxidant hormone that promotes sleep.

Dopamine encourages energy, drive and an upbeat mood.
Adrenaline and noradrenaline play important roles in the fight-or-flight response by increasing blood flow to muscles, heart output and blood sugar.

Endorphins, on the other hand, help relieve pain and promote euphoria.

Lastly, acetylcholine plays an important role in memory, mental alertness and skeletal muscle function.

Brain chemistry imbalance
Numerous health conditions are linked to brain chemistry imbalances in the long term. For example, depression is seen as a functional deficiency of serotonin and/or noradrenaline.
Alzheimer’s disease is linked to a reduced ability to convert choline into acetylcholine within the brain.

In order to balance brain chemicals, we need to take into account other physiological systems since nothing works in isolation. Therefore, there is little benefit in trying to alter neurotransmitter functions without addressing inflammation, blood glucose control, gut health, adrenal function (stress management) and detoxification.

What to eat and drink
Seek energy, not stimulation. Balancing blood sugar levels is essential for keeping moods throughout the day.

Focus on a low glycaemic load diet, which involves avoiding all processed and refined foods and eating whole foods such as pulses, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, wholegrains and fresh fruit.


What you should eat
It is important to avoid the high sugar, processed foods and focus on foods containing the nutrients that benefit brain health. A brain-friendly diet includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, and limited amounts of sodium, saturated fat, and sugar.
Working these foods into your diet will help protect your brain, fight fatigue, and boost your mood and alertness. Common brain-friendly foods include:
Dark chocolate
(Compiled from

Article was first published in Daily Nation