I became interested in nutrition while living in Hong Kong. While suffering abdominal pain I was diagnosed as ‘potentially’ suffering from diverticulitis and was told by my Doctor that this was possibly due to my ‘Western Diet’ (experts suggest that most people consuming Western diets eat far too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3). In order to confirm this I needed to undergo surgery. I opted out, took the antibiotics, felt better, and began paying close attention to what I was eating. I haven’t suffered since and as a result have become more mindful of my diet and nutritional needs.
Since eating my first vegetarian Indian foods (Thali) in the 1980’s I’ve enjoyed eating a more varied vegetable diet, but I suppose I’m guilty of having eaten too many take-aways and too much fast food in the past. By the way, if you enjoy Indian food and haven’t yet tried a ‘Thali’, it is a delicious lunchtime feast. You really should try it. To date, the best Thali I’ve ever eaten yet is at the ‘Kamat’ restaurant in Dubai.
Recently I left Asia and I started working with my wife in building our own business in Ibiza which focuses on nutrition, movement, and mind / body health. This has naturally lead me to pay even more attention to healthy foods and their nutritional values.
I’m fortunate that both of my parents are still alive. They’re both in their mid-80’s but sadly, and naturally, endure declining health, particularly over the past decade. Of course I recognise they’re aged and I accept that declining health is experienced by all of us as we age. But, during my research into nutrition I learned some troubling statistics and facts about how our diet choices impact our nutrition needs and mental health as we get older. I’m 52 years old, 5 foot 11 (180cm) and a bit, and I weigh a touch over 15 stone (95kg). I believe I’m in reasonable shape and I don’t carry much extra weight. I’m beginning 2017 practicing body-weight exercise routines, stretching, meditation, and breathing exercises as a more healthy approach towards old age and as a study of the effects on my well-being.
So where am I going with all this? As I move forward I plan to share more of the nutritional ‘best practice’ information I find and I urge everyone to take an interest in the food they eat. There’s a lot of information out there. Much of it is anecdotal. I intend to stick with scientific research.
A few sources I spend time with are; mentalhealth.org.uk , nutrition.org.uk , nhs.uk , I can also recommend documentaries such as Food Inc, BBC’s Horizon documentary, ‘Healthy Eating', and Michael Pollan’s, ‘In Defence of Food’ to name a few.
It is recognised that throughout our lives the food we eat builds us, sustains us, and can keep us healthy both physically and mentally. We know that the food and drink we consume can change our mood and behaviour. It can make us feel good and bad, happy or regretful, energised or sick. All these feelings and emotions are processed and recognised in our minds. Therefore our brain plays an important role in the food chain.
Just like the heart, stomach, and liver, the brain is an organ that is acutely sensitive to what we eat and drink. To remain healthy, it needs different amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and of course, water.
Our brains are made up of about 60% fat. Any fat we eat has an impact on us. 20% of our brain is made from ‘ESA’s’, (essential fatty acids) omega-3 and omega-6. ’Essential’ means they cannot be made within the body, they must be sourced directly from our diet. So, a large portion of the brain comes directly from the food you eat. These fatty acids are vital in the structuring of brain cells, ensuring that smooth communication is possible within the brain. Both are found in equal amounts in the brain, and it is believed they should be eaten in equal amounts.
Unequal intakes of omega-3 and omega-6 fats are implicated in a number of mental health problems, including depression. The 'Western Diet' contains far too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3. A surprising example of a 'superfood' with an imbalance of ESA's is the avocado. One cup of avocado has 165mg of Omega-3's yet has 2534mg of Omega-6's <http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1843/2>. I'm not saying don't eat avocado, they are a great source of important vitamins and minerals. I encourage everyone to simply be aware of these imbalances. Understanding them and making conscious choices to balancing our diet are key to prolonged mental well-being.
Take time to research the food you like to eat regularly. Try to select ingredient food options high in Omega-3's and low in Omega-6 like some oily fish, vegetable oils like flaxseed oil, walnuts and flax seeds, and pay attention to saturated and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fats – those that are hard at room temperature, like lard – make the cell membranes in our brain and body tissue less flexible. Epidemiological evidence has shown that people with schizophrenia have lower levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids in their bodies than those with no experience of the illness.
Understand that the foods you eat regularly can have an influence on your mood and mental well-being because of the impact they have on the structure and function of your brain. Doing so is an important step in caring for your own mental health now, and more importantly, in the future.
The time is now right for nutrition to become a mainstream, everyday component of personal mental health care.