Sunday 17 November 2019

How your Sunday morning brunch could be good for your mental health

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Alan O'Keeffe

Choosing a healthy brunch instead of a quick muffin can be a boost to your mental health, according to nutritionist Shane O'Rourke.

Eating for better mental health needs to be encouraged, he said.

Mr O'Rourke, who works as a performance nutritionist, added that people need to be more aware that their food choices have an impact on their moods and how they feel.

People can be careful what they eat for their fitness levels and physical health but their mental health is just as important, he said.

Omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish and supplements can help brain function.

The brain relies on fats for fuel and fish such as tuna, herring and sardines can be very beneficial. Proper levels of Omega 3 help repair the brain, keep it strong, and can benefit mood, he said. Omega 3 can also be found in fish oil supplements.

Carbohydrates in pasta and rice help to produce serotonin and tryptophan. Optimum levels of serotonin produced in the brain promote feelings of well-being, he said. "Low-carbohydrate diets can do more damage than good and can result in lower levels of serotonin which can lead to mood swings," said Mr O'Rourke.

"People on low carbohydrate diets can complain about feeling low."

People may then feel an urge for sugary carbs and choose a 'quick fix' soft drink loaded with sugar which can cause a sugar high followed by a 'crash,' he said. Carbohydrates that lead to a slow release of energy throughout the day are preferable.

Proteins contain amino acids. Neuro-transmitters in the brain need amino acids to function. Amino acids are needed for the production of the neuro-transmitter dopamine, the 'feel-good' hormone.

Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body and must be consumed in one's diet.

They can be found in eggs, meat, fish, dairy, and in grains in bread, peas, soy and rice.

Natural foods are always better than heavily processed foods.

People should also remember that many foods sold as healthy snacks such as granola bars can contain large amounts of sugar and calories and are more suited to consuming before undertaking a strenuous hike rather than a stroll home from the shops, he said.

Also important are B Complex vitamins, which can be found in whole grains, brown rice, barley, eggs and meat. High levels of B2 and B3 have been linked to increased mood.

Mr O'Rourke recommended B Complex vitamin supplements.

He said people should be wary of reaching for a biscuit or a muffin as an easy option when one is feeling low. "But choosing an avocado instead is a much better choice as it contains the fats the brain needs and those important B vitamins. Eggs are another great source of B vitamins," he said.

The benefits of a balanced diet needs to be emphasised in this era of busy lifestyles.

Mr O'Rourke (28) has an MSc in nutrition science. A Dubliner, he gives lectures on nutrition in the corporate world. Mr O'Rourke will deliver a talk on 'Nutrition and Mental Health' as part of Aware's lecture series on Wednesday, March 13, at 7.30pm in the lecture theatre, Swift Centre, St Patrick's Hospital, James's Street, Dublin 8.

Occurring on a monthly basis, the Aware lectures cover a variety of mental health topics including depression, bipolar disorder, stress and mood disorders.

All lectures are open to the public, free, and can be watched back at

Sunday Independent

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