Food is fuel. It is also nutrition, energy, and a mood stabilizer. If you are a caregiver, food can help prevent caregiver burnout by improving your health. Eating nutritious foods can lift your mood, increase your energy levels and relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The first step in eating to support your emotional health is to avoid fast food and highly processed foods. These items have little nutritional value and the high levels of fat and sodium can make tend to have a negative impact on one’s health and overall well-being. It is better to eat whole, fresh foods and to prepare your own meals as frequently as possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to cook complicated dishes. In fact, some of these foods can be eaten as easy-to-make salads.
Here are the five most important foods to improve and sustain caregiver emotional health:
1. Fish, especially fatty fish. Omega-3 fatty acids supply the brain with the healthy fats that it needs to function. The brain is made up of large stores of fat and our bodies don’t naturally manufacture enough of it. Eating omega-3s help support the levels of fat that the brain needs to operate. Fatty fish also supports the chemicals in the brain that are responsible for our moods as well as the synapses in our brains that improve learning and memory. Types of fatty fish include salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel. A salmon salad is a great way to get a strong dose of Omega-3s.
2. Whole Grains. Whole grains are great for the brain because they supply it with glucose. Whole grains also help you to feel full and avoid the energy highs and lows that come from eating simple carbohydrates like white bread, rice, and pasta. Complex carbohydrates come from whole grains such as whole-wheat products, bulgar, wild rice, barley, beans, soy, and oats. Eating oatmeal in the morning can make you feel good and will help you stay full longer. Use whole wheat bread for a sandwich or make a salad using wild rice or bulgar.
3. Lean Protein. Our bodies use protein for many things like strong bones and a healthy nervous system. The chemicals and transmitters that allow the nervous system to communicate effectively with other organs in the body depend on the consumption of protein. One of the elements of protein, the amino acid tryptophan, influences our moods by producing serotonin. Lean protein plays an important role in keeping serotonin levels at a healthy balance. Lean protein includes fish, turkey, eggs, beans, and chicken.
4. Leafy greens. Romaine lettuce, turnips, broccoli, spinach, beets, and lentils are all considered leafy greens. The folates and vitamin B in leafy greens can help to reduce depression, fatigue and help you to sleep better. You can use romaine lettuce and spinach as the base of a salad and top it with cooked barley and your choice of lean protein for a power-packed high nutrition salad.
5. Yogurt. Not just any yogurt will do; choose yogurt with active cultures to feed your brain. Look for yogurt that states “active cultures” on the label like kefir, kimchi, and tempeh. Yogurt also puts healthy bacteria in the intestinal tract to help it digest food properly. Active cultures improve neurotransmitters in the body and as a result can reduce anxiety and stress hormones.
Eating these types of foods will help you to feel better and have more energy. That’s important to avoid caregiver burnout. Treat yourself by buying the freshest foods you can find, and select organic if possible. The flavors will improve your appetite and your body will feel nourished and stronger.