One in seven Australians will experience depression at one point in their life. It’s common. So we need to know what we can do to help avoid and manage it and other mental health conditions.
Today I wanted to touch on one of the key nutrients that’s super important for great mental health and that’s protein – and just four ways protein is awesome for our mental health.
Some background info
Food is made up of three nutrients; protein, fat and carbohydrate. Most foods have all three nutrients in them but in varying amounts.
When it comes to protein, amino acids are the building blocks. In a lot of ways, it’s the amino acids that play a really interesting (and awesome) role in our mental health. There are about 20 different amino acids that can make up protein and the body can already make some of these. There are however, 9 essential amino acids we have to get from food (as our body doesn’t make them).
Knowing what foods have which amino acids is particularly important for some people who might avoid certain food groups. For instance, people who follow a vegetarian diet often need to ensure they eat wide variety of plant foods to ensure they get all the essential amino acids (as some plant foods are lower in certain amino acids).
How protein (& amino acids) are awesome for mental health
You can get tryptophan from lean poultry, dairy products, eggs, nuts & seeds, pulses & legumes, fruit (mainly bananas, plums, pineapple, dates, figs & prunes) and vegetables (mainly watercress, spinach and cabbage).
2. Tyrosine – this amino acid is made by the body and can also be sourced from food. It’s linked with the formation of 3 other neurotransmitters (dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline). They help with how we cope with stress and how motivated we are.
You can get tyrosine from lean meat, cheese, avocado, green beans, soy products and some fruit (mainly bananas, figs, plums, raisins, tomatoes and prunes).
3. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is not strictly speaking an amino acid but it has a similar chemical structure and so that’s why I’m mentioning it. It has been linked with improving anxiety.
You can get GABA mainly via wholegrains but also from dark green vegies, nuts, seeds, potatoes, bananas and eggs.
And the fourth way protein foods are awesome for mental health is…
Iron! Iron plays an essential role in carrying oxygen around in the blood. Often we feel tired and run down if our iron levels are low. Additionally, low iron has been associated with depressive type symptoms.
Interestingly most of the foods that we would say are high in protein also contain iron. So it makes sense to ensure we get enough protein foods (as the iron should be taken care of at the same time).
You can get a good amount of iron from meat, fish & poultry, lentils & legumes, quinoa, dark green vegetables, beetroot, nuts, dried fruit and even milo!
Other important stuff to know
- Many nutrients need other nutrients to be absorbed or metabolised. For e.g. Tyrosine requires copper and vitamin C to help with the formation neurotransmitters. Therefore, if we focus on getting an all round balanced diet (aka moderation) we will maximise our mental health.
- Our gut health and how we absorb certain nutrients makes an impact. If we have issues such as diarrhoea or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) type symptoms we might be losing valuable nutrients from our body. This will of course impact on our mental health.
So our advice would be forget about the latest and greatest diet out there and focus on variety. The less restrictions you put in your life with food, the more chances of good nutrients coming in you have and this does have a knock-on effect on our mental health.
What we eat can actually help us FEEL GOOD.