You may already know that eating a nutritious diet is excellent for maintaining your physical health. But how exactly can it improve your mental health?
A growing amount of evidence suggests that the food we put into our bodies plays a significant role in recovering from and helping prevent mental health issues.
This article explores the connection between your diet and mental health and how eating a nutritious diet can improve it.
How are diet and mental health connected?
The relationship between the two is complicated. However, studies have shown a link between the foods we eat and the way we feel.
Some foods can help us feel better and improve our brain health, like a Mediterranean diet (plenty of seafood, vegetables, herbs, olive oil, and grains). These types of foods can also reduce symptoms of depression.
On the other hand, two groups of food can negatively affect your brain, including:
● Caffeine and chocolate: These foods trick your brain into releasing chemicals you may be lacking and temporarily alter your mood.
● Saturated fats, like butter, palm oil, and lard: These foods prevent the conversion of other foods into essential nutrients for the brain.
Nutritious foods support the production of serotonin
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter known for regulating your sleep, appetite, moods, and inhibiting pain. About 95% of serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, lined with 100 million nerve cells. A large number of nerve cells not only help your body digest food but also help you regulate your emotions.
So how can eating a nutritious diet can help improve your mental health?
Certain foods improve learning and concentration. Breakfast is perceived to be the most important meal of the day, and for a good reason. When you get up in the morning, your body's running on fumes from fasting all night. So, it's essential to refuel first thing in the morning. Eating protein and complex carbs is one of the best ways to maximize your concentration and improve your learning ability.
Helps your energy levels. Certain foods like protein, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy oils are a natural and effective way to manage symptoms like low energy and fatigue, commonly experienced by those suffering from depression.
Reduces depression. When struggling with their mental health, particularly depression, it can feel more challenging to pick healthier foods and miss out on necessary nutrients. Research has shown that eating foods with essential vitamins and minerals may be just what the body and mind need. This includes foods such as:
● Dark, leafy greens: Kale, spinach, broccoli
● Healthy fats: Oily fish, extra virgin olive oil, and avocado
● Nuts and legumes: Walnuts, almonds, beans, and lentils
● Fermented foods: Yogurt, sauerkraut, and pickles
Boosts self-esteem. When you take care of your body by filling it with nutrients and healthy foods, you're putting yourself first. This type of mindset contributes to an inherent sense of wellness, self-esteem, and self-worth. And since the body and mind share a connection, the interrelated functioning provides a foundation for wellness.
The bottom line
Start paying attention to the way different foods make you feel. Not just in the moment, but the day afterward. When people make small changes to their diet and 'go clean,' they can't believe how much better they immediately feel both emotionally and physically.
Keep in mind that if you decide to make any changes to your diet, it doesn't necessarily mean you have to cut out unhealthy foods entirely. Remember to check in with your doctor beforehand if you're taking any medications.
Intuitive Eating Dec. 7th | 4pm-6pm EST | 2 CE's | Michael Chiappone, LCSW
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