Nutrition and Mental Health
Did you know that depression and anxiety adversely effects millions of people worldwide? Having such an impact on so many people it’s no wonder that researchers have tried to come up with a way of helping treat mental illness.
To counter their effects and help improve wellbeing, numerous scientific studies are pointing to the link between mental health and good food choices. But how does nutrition help improve mood and mental health? In this article we discover how good nutrition can lead to feeling good and staying mentally healthy.
Why Is Nutrition Important for Mental Health?
Nutrition is vital for staying mentally healthy, so why is nutrition so important for mental health?
Nutrition is so important for mental health as it reduces the symptoms of depression and anxiety because it has the ability of producing the happy hormones dopamine and serotonin.
These are vital in improving mental health as it stabilises your mood and makes you able to cope with anxiety and depression more easily. It also reduces the likely hood of getting a mood disorder to begin with.
So you can see there is definitely a link between nutrition and mental health.
The Link Between Nutrition and Mental Health
There is a link between what we eat and how we feel. You can see this through food that you eat every day.
We’ve all been there. We’ve tucked into a bucket of KFC because we were feeling low. While delicious to begin with, we soon regret our choice a few hours later when our mood plummets.
Similarly this happens for sugar. It’s 3 pm and your energy is really low. You reach for that packet of biscuits. The sugar gives you a spike of energy, but soon after you crash making your mood plummet as well.
If your diet contains a lot of sugar, you’re filling your body with a poor source of fuel (energy) and a lot of wasted calories. While you may be thinking that sugar energises and makes you more productive, think again. Instead, it spikes your blood sugar levels, giving you a surge or a spike of energy which then plummets an hour later making you feel blah.
You can see that what we eat greatly effects how we feel. However, if you were to replace the sugar or fatty foods with good, clean food, you will have better mood and mental health which will be stable long term. This is because good nutrition gives your brain the good fuel that it needs, and it affects your brain functions and your emotions. For example, eating a diet with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, you can reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
It’s important to get the right nutrients (antioxidants, vitamins and minerals) from the food you eat can so you can help nourish your brain positively.
Otherwise, poor nutrition, including a diet laden with refined sugars and fatty foods, can worsen mental health symptoms and brain functions.
Importance of Gut Health
There are other things that you can do to assist in feeling good along with cutting out sugar and fat. And that is having a healthy gut.
It’s a fad right now to have a healthy gut. Drinking Kombucha and eating fermented foods are all the rage. But do you know why?
It turns out that the majority of the production of the neurotransmitter Serotonin, which controls appetite, sleep and mood, is mostly produced in the gut or gastrointestinal tract.
Certain studies have shown that reduced serotonin production is linked with anxiety, depression and low mood. But improving your gut health with good nutrition, can help reduce your risk of mood disorders.
And in case you didn’t know, gut bacteria can also produce the neurotransmitter dopamine which allows communication between neurons. It’s a chemical messenger that is sent to the receptors in the brain that influence behaviour and mood.
So you can see that your digestive system doesn’t just function to process or digest food but it also regulates your emotions. And it can produce an optimal amount of dopamine and serotonin if the gut is in optimal condition and ensuring the adequate production of neurotransmitters that directly affect how we feel.
Having a good gut also means that you are taking in the right nutrients. So what are the nutrients that you need the most to improve mood?
Vitamins and Minerals for Mental Health and Food Examples
Dietary nutrients affect the brain’s function and structure, so they are essential for optimal mental health. So, if you want to maintain mental health and lower risk of mood disorders, you should consider adding these vitamins and minerals and food sources into your diet.
An inadequate level of B12 can lead to psychiatric symptoms, including hallucinations, panic attacks, depression and anxiety. The deficiency can trigger the symptoms in the red blood cells and nervous system.
- Sources: Meat, fish, milk, poultry and eggs; fortified foods, including cereals
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in keeping brain function and structure as well as in controlling the vital aspects in the inflammatory pathway. With sufficient supply of this nutrient in your body, you can address and lower your risk of bipolar disorder, depression and post traumatic disorder.
- Sources: Fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines; oysters, seeds and nuts
Certain types of amino acids serve as precursors of certain mood-modulating bodily chemicals like tryptophan that helps in manufacturing serotonin. Another form, N-acetyl cysteine, which is available in a supplement form, helping in treating the symptoms of compulsive and addictive behaviours, schizophrenia and bipolar depression.
- Sources: Most protein foods, such as seafood, meats, eggs, legumes and nuts
Zinc is involved in different brain chemistry reactions and support immunity. Its deficiency can lead to depressive symptoms and anxiety.
- Sources: Oysters, pumpkin seeds, nuts, lean meats and whole grains
Magnesium is vital for different brain chemistry reactions. Its deficiency is linked to anxiety and depressive symptoms.
- Sources: Legume, nuts, leafy green vegetables, soy and whole grains
This fat-soluble compound not just aids in bone development but also in preventing depression and depressive symptoms.
- Source: fortified foods like tuna, salmon, mackerel, and some dairy products like soy milk, orange juice and cereal
5 foods that improve mental health
There are some foods that you should eat to help with mental health. Here are 5 foods that you might like to eat:
- Avocados: A healthy fat source, you need avocados in your diet because it is rich in the serotonin precursor, tryptophan. It is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which work essentially to improve mood.
- Eggs: Eggs are filled with essential vitamins, including vitamin B12 that directly affects your nervous system and bran functions. They are also potent sources of vitamin D that also improves mood.
- Almonds: If you’re a nut lover, snack on almonds for their high levels of magnesium, which also aids in the production of serotonin, the happy hormone that makes you feel calm, happy and relaxed. Almonds also help in fighting depression because it is loaded with selenium.
- Blueberries: Blueberries don’t just improve memory but also cognitive function and help in slowing down the effects of oxidative stress that accelerates brain aging.
- Fish: Fish are not only just potent sources protein (amino acids), but also omega-3 fatty acids that promote brain health and enhance mood. Particularly oily fish like salmon and mackerel, they are great mood boosters!
These are just some foods that are excellent to eat for mental health. But ultimately, just replacing all junk food with fresh healthy foods will improve your mental health.
Going clean means cutting out all the deep fried food and sugary food (or junk food) out of your diet. Yes it’s delicious and yes it can make you feel really good. BUT it’s only for a short while. Soon after you feel terrible and worse than before. A diet of McDonalds is a sure way of feeling really crap.
So in order to go clean you need to fill your diet with fresh fruit, veges, wholegrains and lean protein and pick from the list above all the foods that you love to eat and inserting it into your diet.
You don’t even have to alter your diet that much. If you really want to eat pizza, serve it with a salad. Just add veges to all your meals. Instead of having dessert, try having fruit with yogurt and a sprinkling of cinnamon. All of this helps to improve mood.
So you can see how nutrition helps to improve mood and mental health. If you want to improve your mood and prevent anxiety, depression, panic attacks and post traumatic stress disorder, you should consider good nutrition that also impacts serotonin and dopamine production.
Disclaimer: This article is only for reference. Information herein isn’t to replace a medical advice. Use it on your discretion. The author isn’t liable for any harm, loss or negative consequences arising from your use of it.
Kristin is a NLP Practitioner and Health Coach helping people with mood and mental health. She has bipolar disorder. In the past she had an attempted suicide and two nervous breakdowns. But through technques to improve mood and control emotions she hasn’t had any symptoms of mental illness for 10 years. Now she teaches her method to other people so they can also get over overwhelm.
To work with her click here
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