As they say – you are what you eat. March is nutrition month in Canada, and to create awareness, we’re focusing on communicating the important, and often overlooked, role nutrition plays in overall mental wellness.
Most of us associate what we eat with the size of our waistlines, not our mental health, but the two go hand-in-hand and play an increasingly important role as we get older. While most caregivers focus on a seniors’ wellbeing, ensure they take their medication and get exercise, and focus on diet as a means to keep them fit, few focus on helping seniors eat to stay mentally strong and improve mental wellness.
The Relationship Between Nutrition and Mental Wellness
There is a direct relationship between nutrition and mental wellbeing. We all know that food impacts our mood, thought process, and ability to function. Think about it – how do you feel after you eat junk food versus a healthy meal? What if you skip a meal? There is a stark difference.
Food can influence and improve your mental health, but some can be detrimental. Eating healthily contributes to a strong mind and body. However, many of the foods available today are processed, filled with preservatives and do not have the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients our bodies and minds need to function efficiently.
“Over time poor nutrition can alter brain chemistry and nerve function affecting mood, sleep patterns, and thinking,” says Rebecca Sovdi, Registered Dietitian, Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Health Canada, FNIHB, in Nutrition and Your Mental Health.
What you eat impacts people of all ages, including seniors. So, what can caregivers do if they notice a connection between mental wellness and diet in a family member?
The Dieticians of Canada recommend a nutrition screening with a dietitian:
“Interventions provided by Registered Dietitians to individuals with mental health conditions and their care providers can lead to reduced nutrition-related side effects of psychiatric medications, improved cognition, better self-management of concurrent and comorbid conditions, and improved overall occupational, social, and psychological functioning.”
The Benefits of Healthy Eating for Older Adults
There are many great benefits of improving your nutrition. They include:
- Feel stronger and be more likely to live a longer and more vibrant lifestyle.
- Feel better, have more energy, and have more self-esteem.
- Have a sharper mind. “People who eat fruit, leafy veggies, and fish and nuts packed with omega-3 fatty acids can improve focus and decrease their risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Antioxidant-rich green tea may also enhance memory and mental alertness as you age,” says helpguide.org
- Improve your mental health.
- Lower your chances of mental issues as you age – including depression and anxiety.
How Can Caregivers Help?
Sovdi recommends the following ways for caregivers to help:
- Ensure you loved one is drinking plenty of fluids
- Include good sources of protein with every meal and fish at least twice a week for its omega-3 fats
- Limit processed foods
- Motivate loved ones to choose healthy food
- Watch for irregular behaviors and link to food intake