It’s common knowledge that what you put in your body has a direct impact on how it functions. Nutrition, however, has been shown to have direct effects on our mental and emotional health as well.
We learn early on that taking care of our bodies by eating right is essential if we want to feel and look our best. The importance of proper nutrition on one’s mental health is often overlooked. The ability to concentrate and stay on task can be improved by eating a nutritious, balanced diet. Increased focus and attention span are other benefits.
Connection Between Food & Mental Health
Reliance on processed meals is one of the greatest health threats to modern society. These meals are loaded with refined flours and sugars, and they condition the brain to want more of them rather than nutrient-dense options like fresh fruits and vegetables.
Many of the processed foods we consume are extremely enticing because they trigger the brain’s reward and pleasure circuits, known as the dopamine system. Stopping consumption of unhealthy foods will alleviate cravings for them. Reducing or eliminating dietary sources of refined carbs and added sugars can have a profound physiological effect on the brain.
The neurotransmitter serotonin has important roles in a variety of physiological and psychological processes, including the control of sleep, appetite, mood, and pain.
It stands to reason that the inner workings of your digestive system do more than just aid in food digestion; since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and since your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it is likely that your gastrointestinal system also guides your emotions.
Foods That Are Helpful For Mental Health
It’s normal practice to prioritize weight loss foods while creating a healthy eating plan. While watching your calorie intake is critical for your health, knowing how different foods affect your brain is even more crucial. Many of the foods on this list have been shown to boost cognitive performance and may even aid in the prevention of cognitive illnesses, so including them in your diet is a win-win.
Avocados: As a great source of vitamin K and folate, avocados can reduce the risk of stroke to the brain. In addition, they improve cognition and focus. Also, the lutein in avocados has been linked to better brain health, so eating them regularly may help you think more clearly.
Chicken: Similar to turkey, chicken is a tasty lean protein option that contains the amino acid tryptophan. This chemical does not knock you out, but it does help your body create serotonin, which helps your brain control mood, combat depression, and retain memory.
Tomatoes: Lycopene, the compound responsible for tomatoes’ red color, is a powerful antioxidant and healthy phytonutrient. The prevention of diseases affecting the brain is just one of the many ways it benefits health. It has been demonstrated to protect against cell damage, which is a key factor in the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Nuts: Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in abundance in nuts, have been shown to reduce symptoms of depression. For instance, the magnesium in cashews can aid increase brain oxygenation. Almonds contain phenylalanine, which boosts brain dopamine and also reduces Parkinson’s symptoms.
Salmon: It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been associated with a decreased risk of developing mood disorders including depression. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been demonstrated to improve cognition and memory.
Whole Grain: The body and brain can use carbohydrates for energy, but we tend to eat too many simple carbs, which can cause dangerous spikes in blood sugar. The complex carbohydrates found in whole grain foods cause glucose production to slow down, making them a more stable and reliable energy source.
Dark Chocolate: Flavonoids, a class of antioxidants, are abundant in dark chocolate. Researchers found that it helped older persons focus more, remember more, feel happier, and slow down the progression of cognitive deterioration. Keep in mind that even chocolate should be enjoyed in moderation.
Foods That Are Harmful For Mental Health
Several recent studies in the field of mental health have looked into the correlation between healthy eating and positive mental state. We’ve outlined some of the best foods to eat for more information, but there are also foods you should avoid if you’re dealing with anxiety or depression, and we’ve included those as well. Some of the worst foods for your mind are listed below.
Sugar-Free Products: Everyone is aware that processed sugar is bad for them, so many businesses now offer “light” or “sugar-free” alternatives. Diet sodas and light salad dressings may have more negative effects than their full-fat counterparts. Aspartame, an artificial sweetener linked to anxiety and depression, has replaced high-fructose corn syrup in many popular foods in recent years.
Energy Drinks: We’ve all experienced that dreaded “wall” of exhaustion, but the next time it happens, maybe skip the energy drink. Anxiety, insomnia, and other heart problems have all been linked to drinking these beverages. These drinks contain insanely high amounts of caffeine, sugar, and artificial sweeteners. Better ways to give your body natural energy include drinking water and eating whole fruit.
Fried Foods: Many people believe that deep-frying improves the flavor of food, but this is not necessarily the case. Fatty, fried foods are terrible for your mind and body. They have been linked to mood swings, irritability, and fatigue due to the high levels of unhealthy fats and sodium they contain.
Alcohol: As a form of self-medication, alcohol is often used by those with mental health problems. Alcohol’s negative effects on mental health are felt even after brief use. It has a depressant effect on the body and can make a bad mood even worse. In addition to disrupting normal sleep patterns, alcohol causes dehydration, which can amplify symptoms like irritability and lethargy.
Caffine: Today, caffeine addictions are common. A morning cup of coffee, or two, or three, may be bad for your mental health. Caffeine causes withdrawals, jitters, and sleep disturbances. Replace coffee with tea or decaf. If you drink coffee for breakfast, limit it to the morning because caffeine can disrupt your sleep schedule.
White Bread: It’s time to reevaluate the bread you’ve been using for sandwiches. Your body will quickly convert the sugar in white flour used to make white bread into energy. Extreme highs and lows in energy are bad for your anxiety and depression. Replace your white bread with whole-grain options.
Soda: Soda, both regular and diet, provides zero nutrients and should be avoided. Regular soda can raise blood pressure, which can have negative effects on the brain due to the beverage’s high sugar content. Researchers have found a correlation between drinking soda and feeling down. Caffeine, which is found in many soda brands, can exacerbate anxiety in some people.
Mental Health Benefits For Eating Healthy
Eating healthily can benefit your brain in addition to your waistline. There are many surprising mental benefits to eating healthily.
Research conducted in the 2010s has shown time and time again that healthy eating habits increase the likelihood of positive mental health, while unhealthy eating habits increase the likelihood of negative mental health. Nearly one-third of those who followed a healthy diet for three months while receiving treatment for depression showed no signs of depression, according to a study conducted in 2018.
1. Helps Your Self Esteem
The foundation of healthy self-esteem is a healthy body image, and eating well is one of the most obvious ways to get there. Eating well is the first step toward developing a positive body image. “Self-esteem begins with our bodies,” wrote Shirley W. Kaplan, M.A., for the American Nutrition Association. The harmonious, interconnected workings of our body parts and our brain chemistry lay the groundwork for an innate sense of wellness because “mind and body are one entity.” If you feel good about how you look when you look in the mirror, your self-esteem will rise.
2. Increase Your Overall Energy
The experts at Harvard Medical School say that sticking to a balanced diet helps people maintain high levels of energy throughout the day. Your energy levels will naturally rise once you switch to a diet rich in whole foods like vegetables, whole grains, and healthy oils, as well as other sources of unprocessed carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. They also suggest eating several small meals a day, skipping lunch, and staying away from extreme weight loss methods like crash diets.
3. Enhances Brain Function
Web MD claims that consuming nutrient-dense foods can boost cognitive abilities. People who want to keep their brains in tip-top shape are often told to snack on nutritious foods like blueberries, wild salmon, freshly brewed tea, and dark chocolate. Don’t go crazy on the dark chocolate, though.
4. Reduces Symptoms Of Depression
Healthline reports that the brain is highly susceptible to environmental cues, including food and drink. like any other part of the body. In order to maintain mental acuity and health, the brain requires a steady supply of specific vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Lack of these nutrients impairs brain function and has been linked to an increased risk of mental health issues like depression. They suggest getting plenty of water, as well as the minerals magnesium, selenium, zinc, amino acids, fatty acids, and water.
5. Promotes Healthy Gut
Recent studies have investigated the strong link between our intestines and brain, providing further evidence for the old adage that you are what you eat. Our gastrointestinal tract and central nervous system are connected by the vagus nerve, allowing for two-way communication. The gut can affect how we feel and act, but the brain can also change the bacteria in our intestines.
6. Develops Mindful Eating Habits
The last step in ensuring that you are eating healthy meals and snacks is to pay attention to how you feel after eating and what you eat. Nutritionists recommend keeping a food journal because many of us don’t pay enough attention to what we eat. Keeping track of what, where, and when you eat is a fantastic way to discover your eating habits.
Many people’s mental images of “diet” include strict plans like those offered by Weight Watchers. Dietary planning, calorie counting, and the avoidance of carb-containing foods are helpful for many people, especially those with specific health goals; however, these practices are not necessary for maintaining a healthy diet. In other words, you don’t have to give up sweets or eat only salads.
Diet and lifestyle wellness can be achieved by being mindful of the connection between what you eat and your wellbeing and making decisions accordingly. The food you choose to eat can be anything from the pantry staples and leftovers to the fresh produce and lean cuts of meat you pick up at the market.