health has become particularly challenging for many, especially in pandemic. While
people stayed locked indoors to lower their physical risk for Covid-19, many
people suffered from mental health challenges and illnesses as the world struggled
to cope with the restrictions and anxiety brought by the pandemic.
The pandemic has
indeed opened many people’s eyes to the reality and the importance of mental
health. Gone are the days that depression can be shrugged off and ignored. It’s
good that people are now more understanding and more vocal about mental health
topics in general, whether it’s overall well-being or dealing with mental
This year, Unicef published The State of the World's Children 2021, which found that more than 13
per cent of the world’s 1.2 billion adolescents (aged 10-19) suffered from a
mental disorder. Tragically, almost 46,000 children of this age chose to end
their lives in 2019, resulting in suicide as the 4th leading cause of death in children
These are now
realities we cannot ignore, and when it comes to mental health, since a lot of
studies are still being made to really address the root causes and the possible
courses of treatment, the best course of action is just to do whatever it takes
to keep not just our children, but adults as well, as mentally sound as
the fuel and building blocks that make up the structure of all our cells. And
since our brains have never rested since it was created—within 8 weeks of
conception—it has a very high demand for good nutrition,” said Julianne Stefani Malong, the official nutrition and wellness coach
of health and fitness app Rebel.
“As of date, there is no hard evidence that a poor diet can
directly lead to the development of depression. However, a poor diet directly
affects the structure and function of our brain, and ultimately, our mood.
Which is why poor nutrition contributes to a downward spiral for individuals
who are already suffering from anxiety and depression,” she added.
Several studies have agreed that there is a relationship between
poor nutritional choices, reduced day-to-day functioning, and emotional changes.
These three elements can all affect and exacerbate each other, therefore
causing a vicious cycle if left unchecked. This is why on top of good diet and
nutrition, receiving support from a doctor or a qualified psychologist will go
a long way not just in preventing mental imbalances like depression and
anxiety, but hopefully, treating their symptoms as well.
Did you know that 95% of serotonin a.k.a the happy hormone in your body is produced by the good bacteria living in your gut? According to Julianne, because there are billions of living organisms in our gut, we need to give them the right conditions to stay alive. Probiotics are amazing in fostering a healthy gut microbiome since they contain these live good bacteria. Best examples of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, tempeh, kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
Working hand-in-hand with the probiotics to maintain good gut health are prebiotics, which are essentially the food for the good bacteria. Plant-based prebiotics include asparagus, garlic, chicory root, artichoke, and banana. For a delicious breakfast rich in these prebiotics, try making this Banana Egg pancakes from Rebel.
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids for brain function and cell growth, and because it’s not manufactured within the body, we need to consume this in the form of food or supplements. Salmon, sardines, and mackerel are some of the best sources of omega 3. And a recent study found that omega-3 supplementation showed beneficial effects in people with very severe depressive symptoms. Salmon is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet and contains up to 2,260 mg of omega-3 one 100-gram serving. For your next meal, try this delicious pan seared salmon recipe from Rebel.
In the simplest terms: stress causes inflammation; inflammation is linked to depression; and polyphenols help ease inflammation. So, what are polyphenols? Julianne explains that polyphenols have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which means that they protect our cells by helping neutralize metabolic waste products and regulating inflammatory pathways. When we consume a diet rich in polyphenols, the benefits manifest all over the body such as improved skin condition, decreased allergic sensitivity, better cognitive function, and more. Polyphenols are naturally occurring in many fruits, vegetables, and spices. But blueberries are probably one of the best sources of this, with a half cup containing at least 535 mg of polyphenols.
“The human brain makes up only 2% of the adult body weight but consumes 20% of our carbohydrate-intake. This is because our brain prefers glucose as fuel. This also means that fad diets that vilify all carbs forces the brain to abnormally run on alternative fuel, which is a highly irresponsible and unsustainable thing to do to our bodies. Our body needs carbs but not all carbs are made equal; we need to consume more of the slow types of carbs or those that have undergone very minimal processing,” said Julianne. Quinoa is not just a complex carbohydrate that ticks this box; it is also a complete protein, which can help keep blood sugar and energy levels steady.
There are 8 different B Vitamins, all of them play a significant role in our body. This includes acting as helpers in the formation of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which are related to the regulation of mood. That’s why many studies found that people with low levels of B-vitamin folate may be more likely to experience low mood and depression. Whole grains are an excellent source of B Vitamins, especially whole grains like brown rice and barley. Try this Korean BBQ Chicken rice recipe made with brown rice from Rebel for a healthy lunch or dinner meal.
Curcumin, which makes up 2-8% of turmeric root is now one of the most popularly marketed items for physical and mental health. While curcumin is a strong polyphenol, Julianne notes that what many companies don’t tell us is that ingesting curcumin by itself does not lead to the associated health benefits due to its poor absorption, rapid metabolism, chemical instability, and rapid systemic elimination. However, combining curcumin with certain compounds makes it more bioavailable. The clinically-studied Meriva curcumin extract is an example of this. So, if you’re looking to supplement with curcumin, consider looking for Meriva curcumin in the products you purchase.
Remember what Julianne said about not all carbs being created equal? Refined carbohydrates such as white bread is one of those types of carbs that may not be as beneficiary to the body. Instead of creating a steady flow of fuel for the body, fast carbs cause sudden peaks and drops in the amount of glucose in the blood. Consuming a lot of fast carbs creates an unreliable fuel supply for the brain, which then increases inflammation.
In the same way that refined carbs may cause these unnecessary spikes, refined sugar is also a huge culprit. Diets high in refined sugars are implicated in aggressive behavior, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. Eating lots of sugar also depletes levels of B vitamins, which is an important vitamin in regulating mood and maintaining well-being.
Sometimes, we think that consuming sugar-free alternatives to our favorite junk food would make us less guilty about not eating well, but in fact, artificial sweeteners have been found to block the formation of serotonin and cause headaches, poor sleep, and low mood. Aspartame is a kind of artificial sweetener present in many sugar-free beverages and sweets, and while it is safe to consume, it’s not as OK for the body as you are being led to believe.
Gluten has become a hot topic recently, as more and more people are coming down with gluten sensitivity and intolerance. In a huge population study, a disease called Coeliac Disease, which causes severe intolerance to gluten, was associated with an 80% increased risk for depression. Gluten is usually found in many wheat, barley, and rye-based food such as breads, noodles, and pastries. Many believe that Coeliac Disease is vastly underdiagnosed in many parts of the world, so it is important to test for gluten sensitivity if you feel gluten is exacerbating your symptoms.