These 5 Foods Will Nourish Your Metabolism & Bolster Mental Health
You may be familiar with the gut-brain connection, but according to Harvard psychiatrist Chris Palmer, M.D., author of Brain Energy, truly understanding metabolism is the key to resolving mental health issues. "Metabolism is a process our cells use to break down the products of food, turn it into energy used to maintain or grow cells, and it involves the management of waste products," he explains on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. "Metabolism is fundamental to the definition of life." He even suggests that mental disorders are metabolic disorders of the brain.
And once you start to connect the dots, you may be able to reach the root of your mental health concerns, whatever they might be. "You can start to understand why neurotransmitters might be dysregulated. You can understand why hormones might be dysregulated. You can understand why vitamin and nutrition deficiencies can cause mental illness," he adds. And ultimately, you can start to understand just how important a balanced diet is for your mental well-being.
Sure, a healthy metabolism depends on so much more than what you eat, but assessing your diet is a solid place to start. Here, Palmer shares his top grocery staples for a balanced mood:
First up on Palmer's list? Wild-caught, sustainably sourced salmon, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids to enhance both metabolic and brain health. Ample amounts of omega-3s in the body have been linked with healthy blood pressure and circulation; by lowering blood pressure, research shows they may even reduce the risk of CHD (coronary heart disease)1.
In terms of mental health, one study shows that omega-3 fats can decrease stress2, and another demonstrates that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help promote a healthy emotional balance and positive mood. All that to say: You may want to load up on omega-3-rich staples, like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring (commonly referred to as SMASH).
Palmer also considers eggs a great addition to your brain-healthy plate (assuming you can tolerate them). Eggs, you see, are rich in choline, the precursor chemical for acetylcholine, one of the most fundamental neurotransmitters3 important for our nervous systems. (And for what it's worth, eggs also provide some omega-3s.)
"I would definitely encourage low-carbohydrate vegetables," says Palmer. "Spinach, broccoli, asparagus… Those provide fiber, which can be really helpful and beneficial to most people's guts." By feeding the healthy microbes in your gut, you inherently support mental health, too, thanks to the gut-brain axis4.
Not to mention, a meta-analysis of eight studies5 found that leafy green vegetable consumption significantly reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by 15.8%—so consider them a major winner for heart and mental health.
To round out his grocery list, "I would probably go with some type of pure, healthy fat," says Palmer. "If I had to choose just one, it would probably be olive oil." High-quality olive oil is brimming with polyphenols, which contain powerful brain-protective antioxidants; the monounsaturated fats in olive oil can also help support healthy cholesterol6. And if you're at all concerned about increasing longevity, you should know that a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that consuming more olive oil, particularly in place of other fats, may lead to a longer life.
But why choose just one healthy fat? "I love avocado," says Palmer. "I eat avocado all the time." Not only do the nutritious green globes have tons of fiber, but they also have magnesium, which has been shown to be helpful for depression7.
According to Palmer, a metabolic approach to mental health is crucial for getting to the root of the issue and optimizing well-being for your whole body. They say any food that's good for your heart is also great for your brain—and with Palmer's growing research, we can understand exactly why.
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Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.