Your body makes everything it needs from what you eat. For some us with lousy or especially limited diets, this can be a problem. For example, if you don’t eat enough protein, your body will break down (called catabolize) your own muscle so that it has the building blocks of protein to use for needed repairs in the body. (This is why some people with anorexia nervosa have heart damage; their bodies broke down heart tissue for protein at some point). If you don’t eat the nutrient building blocks for neurotransmitters, you may have some mood issues (such as depression or anxiety). The body simply can’t make the neurotransmitters it needs from nothing. This is why a varied diet with enough nutrients is important, particularly if you already struggle with mental health issues. And I’m going to tell you that when you eat matters, too. Specifically, I’m talking about breakfast. I know many of you skip breakfast, and if you do and what I share doesn’t change your mind, it’s going to be extra important for you to eat a lunch with protein. Why? Because it takes the about 12 hours from the time you eat some protein until it has been processed and is ready for the brain to build neurotransmitters with. This includes important neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. This by itself isn’t a compelling argument for making sure you eat protein early in the day, but when you also learn that the brain makes the bulk of its neurotransmitters while you are sleeping, you begin to see why protein early in the day is important. You want to be eating it 12 hours before sleeping so your brain has the raw materials it needs to make neurotransmitters. Protein isn’t the only important building block. Folate, added to many foods as folic acid, is a key component of the neurotransmitters involved in regulating mood. This is why a varied diet is the best for your physical and mental health. But if your diet is limited, consider adding a daily multivitamin to provide vitamins and minerals you might not get enough of otherwise. Trying to power your body and your brain with inadequate foods is like trying to drive a car on an empty tank. Just like a car stops moving, your mood can be negatively affected and you may find yourself stuck in depression or full of anxiety without proper nutrition. Proper nutrition may not be the complete answer to your mental health issues, but it’s hard to imagine building good mental health on a shaky foundation if nutrition is poor. Some area grocery stores have dieticians and offer free services that can help you evaluate what you are doing well and how you can improve the rest.
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