It is common knowledge that one’s nutrition has a significant impact on their overall health and well-being.
However, as time goes on, we are becoming more aware of the specific function that diet plays in the social, emotional, and mental health of an individual.
We have convincing data that implies diet and mental health are, in fact, very tightly related to one another. This is despite the fact that there is still a great deal to learn about the underlying relationship between diet and mental health.
This article will serve as your guide to understanding how the foods you eat could affect your mental health and overall wellbeing.
We will discuss what we know so far about the connection between diet and mental health, examine particular dietary patterns that may promote mental health, and discuss easy steps that you can take to maintain a healthy mental state in yourself.
- 1 Diet and mental health: Is there a link?
- 2 Dietary patterns linked with improved mental health
- 3 Simple diet tips to support your mental health
- 4 Foods and habits that may harm your mental health
- 5 How to implement dietary changes to support mental health
- 6 Conclusion
Psychiatric therapies, such as counseling, medication, and occasional hospitalization, have traditionally been used to address mental health disorders.
Today, there is a burgeoning subspecialty of psychiatry called nutritional psychiatry that focuses on the ways in which a person’s diet and nutrition might affect how they feel mentally. Modifications to one’s food and way of life are intended to play a supportive role in the treatment of mental health disorders.
It’s possible that in the past, we took it as a given that the foods we ate had the same effect on our brains as they did on the rest of our bodies. However, it makes perfect sense that the foods we consume have the same effect on our brains as they do on the rest of our bodies.
Because our gastrointestinal system, or what is more colloquially referred to as “the gut,” is actually very tightly related to the brain, one of the reasons why the food choices we make have such a profound impact on our brains is because of this.
The gut is home to millions of living bacteria that perform a wide variety of activities throughout the body. One of these functions is the synthesis of neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that are sent to the brain to control sleep, pain, appetite, as well as mood, and emotion.
Because of the complex web of connections that exist between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract, the latter is sometimes referred to as the “second brain.” The connection that exists between the two is referred to in scientific parlance as the gut-brain axis or the gut-brain connection.
The study that has been done thus far reveals that the foods we eat have an effect on the health of the microbial colonies that live in our guts, which in turn has an effect on our brains and, as a result, our mental and emotional well-being.
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There is some evidence to suggest that specific food patterns may help lessen symptoms of depression, anxiety, and mood in general. These patterns may also assist improve overall mood.
For depression: The Mediterranean diet
A number of studies have been conducted over the past few years that have found correlations between dietary patterns, gut health, and the risk of developing depression.
According to the findings of one study, a diet that was high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes while being low in red and processed meats was associated with an increased risk that was 10 percent lower than the average.
There have been at least two seminal studies that have directly tested the ability of the Mediterranean diet to lower assessments of depression in experimental study groups with encouraging results.
However, not all of the research that was conducted on the subject showed such significant findings, and even more, human trials are still required. Despite this, the preliminary evidence is quite convincing.
Some health organizations are now starting to propose a diet that is similar to the Mediterranean diet in order to improve gut health and reduce the risk of depression.
To better adhere to the guidelines of the Mediterranean diet, you should consume more
- olive oil
- dairy products
A Mediterranean diet limits:
- fried foods
- processed meats
- baked goods
- sweetened beverages
Keep in mind that selecting a pattern of eating that is founded on the principles of the Mediterranean diet does not need you to give up the foods that are traditional to your culture.
It is essential, in point of fact, that the meals you regularly consume be ones that are accessible to you in your immediate area, as well as ones that have some cultural or personal significance to you.
For instance, you can find out more about giving the food of the Mediterranean region a Caribbean spin right here.
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For stress and anxiety
Alcohol, caffeine, and sweets that have been added to foods are three substances in particular that have the potential to make anxiety symptoms worse.
In addition, research has shown that anxiety is correlated with a high intake of saturated fat, a low intake of fruit, and overall poor quality of food.
As part of your treatment plan, you might want to consider making changes to your diet if you find that you are experiencing unusually high levels of stress or anxiety. Think about cutting back on the amount of alcohol, coffee, and added sugars you consume.
Instead, go for meals that have been shown to reduce inflammation and stress throughout the body, such as fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber, fats that are unsaturated, and fermented foods that are loaded with bacteria.
For mood and mental well-being
Eating a diet that is both well-balanced and varied in the types of health-promoting nutrients it provides is one of the finest things you can do for your mood and is also one of the best things you can do in terms of your diet.
There are a number of studies that suggest that eating a diet that is rich in nutrients and of good quality can help enhance one’s mood. However, experts are still investigating the connections between food and mental health.
A literature review, for instance, identified a connection between higher food quality and improved mood, and three separate research all came to the same conclusion: eating more fruits and vegetables is associated with experiencing less concern, less tension, and greater life satisfaction.
If you want to eat foods that are higher in nutrients but you’re not sure where to begin, read this. Check out this practical guide to healthy eating that Healthline has put up.
Simple diet tips to support your mental health
In the event that you are displaying signs of a mental health illness, it is recommended that you collaborate directly with an expert, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, in order to receive tailored treatment.
On the other hand, if you just want to make some easy adjustments to your diet in order to promote your mental health and wellbeing, the following are some suggestions that you can start with.
As you read through these pointers, keep in mind that the quality of your diet as a whole is more important than the impact of any single choice you make on a given day. Instead of concentrating on just one type of wholesome nutrient at a time, make an effort to pay attention to a variety of them.
Load up on these nutrients
- Walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, salmon, herring, and sardines are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Foods high in folate include beef liver, rice, fortified cereals, black-eyed peas, spinach, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts.
- Oysters, beef liver, fortified cereals, spinach, dark chocolate, white beans, lentils, and tofu are some foods that are high in iron.
- Magnesium can be found in foods such as spinach, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, black beans, soy milk, almonds, cashews, and peanuts.
- Oysters, chicken, pork chops, beef roast, Alaska king crab, lobster, and pumpkin seeds are good food sources of zinc.
- Chicken breast, beef liver, clams, tuna, salmon, chickpeas, potatoes, and bananas are all good sources of vitamin B.
- Beef liver, herring, cow’s milk, ricotta cheese, sweet potatoes, carrots, and melons are all good sources of vitamin A.
- Included on the list of foods high in vitamin C are red and green peppers, orange and grapefruit juice, strawberries, and broccoli.
Pack in prebiotics and probiotics
Foods knew as prebiotics work as a source of nourishment for the bacteria that are already present in your digestive tract, whereas probiotics actually contain the beneficial bacteria themselves.
A homeostatic (balanced) condition of homeostasis (stability) in the gut can be helped to be maintained by eating a diet that contains both prebiotics and probiotics. There is some evidence to suggest that they may also be involved in how the body reacts to conditions such as stress and depression.
The following items are examples of foods that either contain prebiotics or probiotics:
- fermented foods: yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha
- alliums: garlic, onions, leeks
- vegetables: artichokes and asparagus
- fruits: apples and bananas
- grains: barley and oats
Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables provide a high concentration of a wide variety of nutrients that are beneficial to mental health, such as fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamin B, vitamin C, and healthful plant compounds known as polyphenols.
A recent review of 61 studies that compared fruit intake and mental health found that eating more fruits and vegetables was associated with higher levels of optimism and self-efficacy, as well as lower levels of depression and psychological distress. The research was conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health.
Following are some fruits and vegetables that may affect mental health:
- citrus fruits
- leafy greens
Fuel up with whole grains
Cereals such as rice, wheat, and oats are examples of whole grains because their structure is preserved throughout the manufacturing process. Because refined grains have had specific components of the plant removed, whole grains maintain a higher concentration of the plant’s original fiber and minerals.
One recent study that involved the participation of almost 3,000 participants indicated that a higher dietary fiber consumption was associated with lower risks of anxiety, depression, and psychological discomfort.
Additionally, the type of fiber that is found in whole grains may have anti-inflammatory effects when it is digested in the gut, which may also aid mental health via the gut-brain axis. This is because whole grains include more resistant starch (29Trusted Source).
Many of us have our eating preferences determined by a wide variety of different variables.
Although the nutritional content of a dish is frequently the most important aspect, there are many other considerations that can and should play a role in food selection, including the joy that comes from dining with others.
If you’re feeling down in the dumps, getting together with loved ones, good friends, and people of your community to share a meal is one of the oldest customs practiced by humans and could be one way to lift your spirits.
Foods and habits that may harm your mental health
There are apparently some foods, nutrients, and behaviors that are beneficial to one’s mental health, and there are also those that may be detrimental to one’s mental health.
If you’ve found that certain things have a tendency to influence your mental state, the following are some things that you might want to consider having only in moderation or eliminating entirely.
Foods that have been subjected to industrial processing procedures are considered to have been ultra-processed.
Candies, baked goods, sugar-sweetened beverages, and salty snacks are examples of the types of foods that fall into this category. They have a tendency to have a higher calorie, salt, added sugar, and unsaturated fat content.
Consuming meals that have been too processed on a consistent basis throughout the week has been connected with an increased risk of developing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress.
As a result, it’s probably advisable to reserve highly processed foods for special occasions only.
Keep in mind, however, that the term “processed foods” refers to a wide array of goods, many of which are easier to prepare and more affordable than other foods. It’s a misconception that all processed foods automatically become unhealthy.
Consumption of alcohol is intimately associated with mental health disorders, and the two are frequently caught up in a feedback loop with one another.
People who are struggling with the symptoms of mental health issues may turn to alcohol for temporary respite, only to discover that it makes the symptoms even worse. This is because alcohol is a depressant.
For instance, drinking an excessive amount of alcohol may make symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression, stress, anxiety, and mood disorders worse.
If you are experiencing issues with your mental health, it may be better to refrain from alcohol entirely or drink only in moderation, which is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as no more than one drink for women and no more than two drinks for men per day.
It has been proven that the time intervals at which we eat during the day can influence our food choices, circadian rhythm, inflammation, and even the gut flora, all of which have the potential to impair mental health.
A new study that included over 4,500 adult workers found a correlation between irregular meal habits and greater degrees of neuroticism, loss of productivity, trouble sleeping, and other characteristics that impair mental health.
Eating at regular mealtimes as often as you can is one approach to keep your mood in check. However, this is not always achievable.
A lack of sleep
In addition to maintaining a good diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and staying away from cigarettes and alcohol, getting enough quality sleep is also an essential component of mental health.
A lack of sleep is related to lower mental health, but it may also alter gut health and food choices. This is in addition to the fact that sleep deprivation itself is associated with poorer mental health.
Caffeine is one of the culprits that could be causing problems with your sleeping habits, and the impacts of caffeine may be especially substantial in young individuals. A correlation between caffeine use and symptoms of anxiety and depression was found in a college student sample in a study of limited scope.
Energy drinks were found to have a substantial association with poor sleep, severe stress, and depression in a bigger trial that included more than 68,000 adolescents. It’s interesting to note that the effect was most in people who also often consumed processed meals.
If you discover that you have difficulties falling or staying asleep, you should try to restrict your caffeine consumption to the morning. Check out Healthline Sleep in the meanwhile for further information and resources.
How to implement dietary changes to support mental health
It is not always simple to make a change, particularly if you are attempting to go against the patterns that you have developed over the course of your life.
There are, thankfully, some actions that, if you prepare ahead, you can take to assist make the transition easier on yourself.
1. Go easy on yourself
Any kind of adjustment to one’s way of life is going to take some time, and getting from the starting line to the finish point is not going to happen all at once.
Always keep in mind that transition is a process. It is very common and acceptable for you to trip and fall along the route.
2. Eat mindfully
Paying close attention to the ways in which different kinds of food and drinks influence how you feel is one of the most effective actions you can take to improve the relationship between the things you eat and your mental state.
If you are concerned that particular foods might be affecting your mental health, you can consider omitting those foods from your diet and observing any changes that may occur in how you are feeling to determine whether or not this is the case.
After that, include them once more in your diet and pay attention to whether or not your feelings have changed as a result.
The burgeoning area of nutritional psychiatry is built on individualised techniques such as mindful eating that form its foundation.
3. Start small
Start by altering just one aspect of your diet at a time rather than jumping right into a radical overhaul of your entire eating routine all at once.
This could be as straightforward as setting a goal to consume at least one piece of fruit on a daily basis or deciding to restrict the amount of caffeinated beverages you consume in a given week.
4. Try swapping these foods
Swapping foods that seem to support mental health for those that may not is a simple and manageable way to make a modest change that can have a big impact.
The following are some examples of healthier food substitutions:
- foods that aren’t pre-packaged or processed, as opposed to entire foods
- Instead of processed carbohydrates, consume whole grains.
- entire fruits rather than dried fruits and fruit juices are recommended.
- Instead of eating red and processed meats, opt for fish or lean chicken.
- fermented dairy products rather than sweetened dairy products
- flavoured waters with fruit instead of carbonated beverages
- alternative beverages such as kombucha or herbal tea in place of alcohol
- spices and herbs in place of the typical sugar and salt
5. Monitor your progress
Making a change and being able to maintain that change over time is always a terrific experience in and of itself.
It is impossible to determine whether or not the adjustments you have made are genuinely successful if you do not monitor how the change is affecting your overall goals.
Consider some of the means by which you will track your advancement and the means by which you will record it.
Writing in a notebook about how you feel after consuming a variety of foods or using a checklist to keep track of the food groups that you consume on a daily basis are two easy ways to keep tabs on your progression and monitor your success.
The topic of nutritional psychiatry is an intriguing one that has the potential to revolutionise the way in which we think about our mental health.
Although there is still much to learn, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the health of our gut and the bacteria that reside in it play an important part in the management of mental health as well as the regulation of emotions.
Consuming processed foods is linked to worse outcomes and should probably be minimised. Eating a diet rich in nutrients, on the other hand, may be one of the most effective methods to improve gut health.
If you want to make adjustments to your diet to improve your mental health, start by making a few little food modifications and work your way up from there.