Nutrition for mental health

by | | Mini Blog Series

It’s a common misconception that fat is bad for our health. When we talk about fat we tend to think about it as just one food group. In reality, it’s split into many different groups with a majority of fats being either saturated or unsaturated.

Unsaturated fats are very beneficial to our health and well-being, helping to protect and improve the function of our heart and brain. Did you know that 60% of your brain is made of fat? 80% of the fat that makes up your brain is a fatty acid called Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA for short. This particular fat has been considered to be the single most critical nutrient for brain health throughout life. It is one of the Omega 3 fatty acids alongside Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) that are found in oily fish. Generally speaking, DHA is linked to good brain function whereas EPA is linked to protecting your heart.

It is generally considered that the most beneficial way to acquire the right amount of DHA is through eating oily fish, such as salmon, tuna or sardines 2-3 times a week. If this is not possible then you could look to use supplements on a daily basis. It’s important that you check the information on the label as many cheap omega-3 supplements don’t contain anywhere near the minimum recommended level of 250mg of DHA per day.

Why is DHA so important?

DHA are the building blocks of brain cells, membranes and nerve cells. It also helps the brain cells to communicate effectively with each other and allows your neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine to function more effectively. Optimal levels of serotonin are associated with good mental health which is why it’s often called our ‘happy hormone’.

If DHA isn’t available, the brain will use other suboptimal fats to build brain cells. You can think of it like owning a Ferrari and filling it up with low-octane Tesco’s unleaded petrol. You’re not going to get the performance that you would if you filled it with premium high-octane petrol.

Evidence from looking at fossils shows that one of the main reasons why as humans we were able to build our large brains was due to our DHA intake ability which increased as we learned how to catch fish.

In addition to being vital to brain function, our brains tend to shrink with age but DHA helps to preserve brain volume. People low in DHA will have smaller brains that age faster.

If you don’t eat oily fish 2-3 times a week then it may be time to consider supplementation. Your brain will thank you for it.

Perhaps you might be interested in reading other articles from my mini-blog series;

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