We are what we eat. Our body shape, height, and fitness levels; food affects every aspect of our well-being. Studies have unfolded a strong connection between food and mental health too. Proteins, one of the three macronutrients that we consume in our daily diet, in addition to carbohydrates and fats, form a chunk of our calorie count. Their primary role lies in muscle building and repair, which makes it an excellent bodybuilding food. Furthermore, amino acids, the compounds that makeup proteins, are vital for the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters. Research suggests that amino acids are essential for optimising brain health. Read through to know how a protein diet for mental health works.
Diet and Mental Health
Diet and mental health are closely tied. The choice of foods, their quantity, and timing of intake; all impact the way our body and mind work. The key to overall well-being lies in focusing on basic eating habits. These include:
- Mindful Eating – This includes being aware of what you eat and how much you eat. It abstains from overindulging and overeating.
- Structured Eating – This concentrates on eating in a timely and disciplined manner. It ensures that the body gets the required energy in a structured manner without bouts of highs and lows.
- Balanced Eating – This focuses on including all macronutrients and micronutrients in the diet in the required quantities.
And when it comes to mental well-being, all three macronutrients – fats, carbohydrates, and proteins are important.
- Role of Fats – Research suggests low-fat consumption with increased risk of depression. It helps in maintaining the cell structure of the brain’s communication network and therefore is paramount for proper brain functioning.
- Role of Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates provide glucose which acts as fuel for the brain. Low intake of carbohydrates is associated with brain fog, depression, fatigue, and sluggishness.
- Role of Proteins – Proteins take the centre stage when it comes to mental well-being. Proteins are made up of amino acids. These are vital for the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that relay information between the cells. As the cells communicate, they regulate sleep, appetite, and mood.
How do Proteins Impact Mental Health?
The inclusion of proteins in the daily diet affects mental health in many ways. These include:
1. Provides Energy to Perform
Proteins are a source of calories. They are burnt to generate energy. A high protein diet thus helps improve energy levels, giving the strength to perform.
2. Helps Produce Happy Hormones
Two amino acids – tyrosine and tryptophan, are responsible for the production of dopamine and serotonin, the body’s happy hormones. Dopamine and serotonin also act as neurotransmitters. Low intake of proteins affects the production of these neurotransmitters, leading to increased levels of anxiety and depression.
3. Improve Function of Neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals which allow cells to communicate with each other. They carry signals from one cell to the other. Essential amino acids sourced through high-quality protein intake boost the production and function of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin – neurotransmitters that are linked to depression and a range of other mental health disorders.
4. Proteins Reduce Sugar Cravings
The highest protein foods make you feel satiated and remain full for long. This reduces the inclination to munch on sugary snacks. High sugar intake has a direct link to an increased risk of depression.
5. Proteins Cut Iron Deficiency
High protein foods are typically rich in iron. Anaemia, a condition caused by iron deficiency, is marked by an impaired ability of the red blood cells to carry oxygen. As the oxygen circulation in the body reduces, people with iron deficiency anaemia are at a higher risk of anxiety disorders, depression, sleep disorders, and psychotic disorders.
6. Helpful for Neurons
The neuron is the basic working unit of the brain. They are specialised cells that function as information messengers. While they are made up of fat, they communicate via proteins. A high protein diet enables effective signal transmission between neurons, boosting mental health.
Recommended Protein Intake
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein depends upon various factors. These are:
- Activity levels
- Overall health
- Muscle building
- Pregnant or breastfeeding
The general requirement for an average adult is at least 0.8 gm of protein per kg of body weight per day. Furthermore, at least 10-35% of the daily calorie count must come from proteins.
Age and Gender-Related Protein Requirement
Children (0 months to 8 years)
0-6 months – 9.1 gm
6-12 months – 11 gm
1-3 years – 13 gm
4-8 years – 19 gm
Males (9 years to 70+)
9-13 years – 34 gm
14-18 years – 52 gm
19-70 years – 56 gm
70 and above – 56 gm
Females (9 years to 70+)
9-13 years – 34 gm
14 – 70 years – 46 gm
70 and above – 46 gm
Lactating and Breastfeeding Females – 71 gm
Activity-Related Protein Requirement
- 0.8 gm per kg of body weight per day for people with a sedentary lifestyle
- 1 gm per kg of body weight per day for people with minimal activity
- 1.3 gm per kg of body weight per day for people with moderate levels of exercise
- 1.6 gm per kg of body weight per day for people with intense exercise
How to Calculate Protein Requirement?
To calculate your daily protein requirement, multiply your weight in kg by 0.8. The result will be the daily protein requirement in gm/kg.
For calculating activity-related protein requirements, use the factors mentioned above (1 gm, 1.3 gm or 1.6 gm), depending upon your activity level.
For instance, if a person weighs 70 kg and is moderately active, the protein requirement per day is 70 X 1.3 = 91 gm per day.
Highest Protein Foods
A high protein diet contains:
- Eggs – 6.3 gm of proteins in one large egg
- Almonds – 6 gm of proteins in 28 gm of almonds
- Chicken Breast – 26.7 gm of protein in 86 gm of chicken breast
- Cottage Cheese – 28 gm of protein in one cup of cottage cheese
- Greek Yoghourt – 20 gm of proteins in 200 gm of Greek Yoghourt
- Milk – 8.3 gm of proteins in 250 ml of milk
- Lentils – 9 gm of proteins in 100 gm of lentils
- Lean Beef – 24.6 gm of protein in 85 gm serving
- Fish – 41 gm of protein in 180 gm of Cod fillet
- Quinoa – 8 gm of protein in 185 gm of Quinoa
- Whey Protein – 16.6 gm of proteins in 30 gm scoop serving
- Pumpkin seeds – 8.8 gm of proteins in 30 gm of pumpkin seeds
- Peanut Butter – 7.2 gm of proteins in 32 gm serving of peanut butter
Best Foods for Mental Health
When it comes to mental health, include foods that boost mental health. Best foods for mental health include:
- Salmon Fish
- Whole Grains
- Olive Oil
- Dark Chocolate
Foods to Avoid for Mental Health
Listed below are the foods that harm mental health. The foods to be avoided are:
- Packed Fruit Juice
- Diet Soda
- Energy Drinks
- Soy Sauce
- Processed Foods
Proteins optimise brain function. Made up of small amino acids, they are important for the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters. All cell activity is supported by enzymes that are made up of proteins. A high protein diet also regulates the production of hormones, which are important for body and brain harmony.
Tyrosine and tryptophan, two important amino acids, are responsible for the production of dopamine and serotonin, the body’s happy hormones. Reduced levels of dopamine and serotonin are linked to a high risk of depression and other psychiatric disorders.
Thus, a protein diet for mental health is a must. Eating a high protein diet will not just nourish your body but will also optimise brain function. Your daily dietary requirement of protein will depend upon age and activity levels. Make sure you source your protein requirement through the best protein foods.