Diet and Mental Health

Diet and Mental Health

How what we eat affects our brain health

There is a common phrase that goes, “You are what you eat.” A majority of adults have probably heard this phrase at least once in their lives. According to a recent study, 65.2% of Americans take this phrase to extremes by being overweight or obese.  While scientists have correlated diet with physical health results and outcomes, there is a growing interest around the topic of diet that promotes good mental health. The food that we eat has a big impact on how we think and react to situations that appear in our lives. When thinking about improving our mental health, we should also consider improving our diet and eating habits.

People have always turned to diets to make a change to their physical body. Majority of these diets cut out or amplify certain food group(s) to achieve the desired physical result. The problem with fad diets is that people tend to make these lifestyle changes rapidly, which can cause disruption in the body’s overall system, lead to hormonal level changes and can at times influence one’s mood. That being said, it may be helpful to think of your body as a machine. The more nutrient-dense food that you put in your body, the more fuel your body has to use. A poor diet brings in less fuel so the body has less energy to use. 

Diet is not the only factor when it comes to mental health, hydration is a factor in overall health as well. Water is an important beverage because it helps other nutrients be absorbed and push toxins out. It is recommended that the average adult drinks eight 8-ounces of water a day to prevent dehydration. Studies have shown that a dehydrated body, even to the slightest degree, has big impact on problem solving, mood and social skills. Low hydration was also shown to impact individuals’ energy level, alertness, and concentration. Water is utilized to transfer nutrients to the organs and push toxins out. If toxins are not removed, organs can become inflamed. For example if a person has brain inflammation, they could suffer from fuzzy short term memory, issues with mathematical problem-solving, and focus.  

So what is the best diet for overall health and wellness? A well-balanced diet including a variety of foods, not only keeps people full longer but has the best results when it comes to clearer thinking and mood regulating. When a person consumes a variety of foods, this helps release energy slowly rather than a quick pick me-up. This gradual release of energy can help maintain a higher energy and emotional mood.

According to a systematic literature review on the best foods to fight back against symptoms of depression were those rich in folate, iron, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), magnesium, potassium, selenium, thiamine, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and zinc. In other words, think seafood and lots of leafy green vegetables.

The Mediterranean diet was studied as the closest possible diet linked to better overall health and wellness. This diet is characterized by a high consumption of vegetables and olive oil and moderate consumption of protein to help regulate blood sugars leading to a healthier and happier lifestyle. In 2010, the Mediterranean diet made UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage list for the ‘wealth of knowledge and skills’ that it brings to people. With a strong emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, this diet has a 70% longer life expectancy and 80% higher quality of life. 

Overall, the best method for optimal mental health is to eat more nutrient-dense food. Fast food and/or a poor diet contain chemicals that can contribute to emotional instability. It is best to avoid foods containing high sugar, sodium, artificial flavors, and preservatives to keep emotional symptoms at bay. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to maintain high energy throughout the day, and enjoy a glass of wine or two for good measure. Lastly, drink plenty of water to help your body absorb the nutrients that it needs and push out the toxins that are holding it back from the best version that it can be. 

If you find yourself making positive lifestyle changes with food and diet and still continue to have difficulty balancing your mental health, it may be time to seek help. Contact a mental health clinician to address your symptoms of depressed mood and learn more effective ways of managing your health.