We are taught from a young age how following the healthy food pyramid will help decrease our risk of developing diabetes, cancer, obesity and heart disease. However, recent studies are beginning to show that eating certain foods can boost our mental health and decrease our risk of depression and anxiety.
With mental health illnesses rising at an alarming rate and the cost of therapy and medication reaching an all time high, Australia’s clinical guidelines are now recommending parents consider diet when looking to treat anxiety, stress and depression in children.
Today’s kids are continually confronted with stressful or anxious situations, such as school testing, social and academic expectations, and changing family dynamics. By altering their diet to include certain foods, you can help combat anxiety and stress.
However, there is no denying that kids can be very fussy eaters, which is why we’ve created a list of five foods that you can pack in a lunchbox or whip into an easy midweek meal.
1. Antioxidants rich blueberries
Dopamine and serotonin are chemicals that promote happiness in our brain, and consequently act as a defence against stress or inflammation in the brain or body. These ‘happy chemicals’ are commonly found in fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants. Often these are the most colourful of fruit, so you can get creative and make meals with all the colours of the rainbow.
Next time you make a fruit salad, smoothies or home-made ice blocks try adding these antioxidant-rich fruits: blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries.
You could also include kale, red cabbage, beans, and spinach into a stir fry as they are full of antioxidants.
2. Omega 3 found in salmon
Omega 3 are polyunsaturated fatty acids that exist in our bodies to convert food into energy. They also help the brain with its communication to the ‘feel-good chemicals’ dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine.
Additionally, Omega 3 increases brain function and is known to improve symptoms of some mental health disorders such as depression. Unfortunately, Omega 3 nutrients are not readily produced by the body; rather they are found in the foods we eat.
Omega 3 is most commonly found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines. If you have fussy eaters, you might be able to introduce them to these through home-made fish and chip dinners. Yum!
Other foods high in Omega 3 include chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseed oil, soybean oil and canola oil. All these ingredients can be added to meals and recipes, many without your kids noticing.
3. Bananas are full of B vitamins
B vitamins also play an important role in the production of the ‘feel-good chemicals’ in the brain. These nutrients are easily found in green vegetables, beans, bananas and beetroot. Bananas are high in B6 (Pyridoxine) and are great for fussy eaters; you can create ‘ice-cream’ when they are frozen, make banana bread and pancakes.
4. Prebiotics and Probiotics such as yoghurt
There are millions and trillions of good and bad bacteria living in our stomachs. These bacteria can influence our mood, behaviour and brain health. They act as chemical messengers and influence our emotions, appetite and reactions to stressful situations.
Yoghurt, cheese and fermented foods such as kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi work on the same pathways in the brain as antidepressants and studies have started to show that they might have similar effects. They have also been found to suppress immune reactions, reduce inflammation in the brain, decrease anxious states and promote happy emotions.
A low sugar (or even better sugar-free) yoghurt is a great snack for kids; you can mix it with fresh fruit or freeze it for a cold treat. You can add cheese to your child’s sandwich, make an afternoon tea with crackers, or have it on its own.
5. Complex carbohydrates found in wholegrains
Complex carbohydrates are contained within fibre and starch, such as several different fruits, vegetables and wholegrains. These carbohydrates release glucose into our system, helping to stabilise moods.
Add complex carbs your diet by including whole grains (whole-wheat pasta), fibre-rich fruit (apples), fibre-rich vegetables (broccoli and carrots), and beans. Many of these foods make up the basis of our main meals; by carefully picking the product off the shelf, you can help stabilise your child’s mood during stressful situations.
If you’re looking for more nutritional information and support, speak to one of our health practitioners or check out the Hubfit Active app that is included as part of your membership. This app provides a range of healthy recipes and wellness support, to make healthy living even easier.
Don’t have access to the app? Speak to one of our staff about signing up to become a Hubfit Active member to access all the health and wellness benefits and tools.