Diet and Mental Health: What You Eat Can Affect How You Feel

It is commonly known that diet has a significant impact on one’s mental health and happiness.

But as time goes on, we’re discovering how eating mainly affects our social, emotional, and mental health.

Even though there is still much to learn about the underlying connection between nutrition and mental health, there is strong evidence to support this.

Your resource for learning how food could impact your mental health and wellbeing.

We’ll discuss what is currently known about the connection between nutrition and mental health, consider particular dietary patterns that may benefit mental health, and look at easy steps you can take to maintain a positive mental state.

Do diet and mental health go hand in hand?

Historically, psychiatric interventions like counseling, medication, and even hospitalization have been used to treat mental health disorders.

Nutritional psychiatry, a new discipline, focuses on how diet and nutrition affect how people feel mentally. It seeks to support dietary and lifestyle changes in treating mental health disorders (2 ).

We may have previously taken it for granted, but it makes obvious sense that the meals we eat affect our brains just as much as the rest of our bodies.

Our gastrointestinal tract, or what is more popularly referred to as “the gut,” is very tightly connected to the brain, which is one reason why our dietary choices have such a profound impact on our brains.

Numerous living microorganisms reside in the gut and perform various essential bodily tasks, including producing neurotransmitters that communicate with the brain to control various physiological processes like sleep, pain, appetite, mood, and emotion.

The two organs interact so complexly that the gut has earned the moniker “second brain.” The two’s link is formally referred to as the gut-brain axis or gut-brain connection .

Research reveals that the foods we consume affect the health of our gut microbe colonies, affecting our brains and, consequently, our mental and emotional wellbeing .

Dietary habits are associated with better mental health.

There is some proof that specific eating habits may help lessen feelings of anxiety, depression, and low mood.

The Mediterranean diet can help with depression.

Several studies in the last few years have discovered connections between dietary habits, gut health, and the risk of depression.

A diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes and low in red and processed meats was linked to a 10% lower risk of depressive symptoms, according to one study (15 ).

At least two significant studies directly assessed the Mediterranean diet’s capacity to lower depression measurements in test groups, encouraging outcomes.

Though not every study on the subject came to such startling conclusions, further human trials are still required. However, the preliminary data is vital.

To promote gut health and reduce the risk of depression, some health organizations are now starting to suggest a Mediterranean-style diet.

Increase your consumption of the following foods to adopt a Mediterranean diet:

  • fruits
  • veggies
  • fish
  • nuts
  • legumes
  • oleo oil
  • containing dairy

 

The following are the restrictions of a Mediterranean diet:

 

  • meals that are fried
  • prepared meats
  • items that have been baked
  • drinks with added sugar

 

It’s essential to keep in mind that adopting a diet based on the principles of the Mediterranean diet doesn’t always need you to stop eating items from your culture.

You must include items in your diet readily available nearby and have meaning for you personally or culturally.

For instance, you can read more about adding a Caribbean twist to the Mediterranean diet.

Limit alcohol, coffee, and sugary meals while dealing with stress and anxiety

Alcohol, coffee, and more sweets are three drugs, in particular, that may make anxiety symptoms worse.

Additionally, studies have discovered associations between anxiety and a diet heavy in saturated fat, low in fruit, and generally unhealthy.

As part of your treatment plan, you might want to change your diet if you notice that you’re feeling particularly worried or nervous. Reduce your use of alcohol, coffee, and added sugars.

Opt for more foods that may lessen stress and inflammation throughout the body, such as fermented foods, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, and unsaturated fats.

A nutrient-dense diet is beneficial for mood and mental health.

Eating a well-balanced diet rich in a variety of nutrients that are good for your health is one of the best things you can do for your diet to enhance your mood.

Numerous studies suggest eating a high-quality, nutrient-dense diet for a better mood, despite experts investigating the connections between food and mental health.

For instance, a literature review revealed a correlation between a higher-quality diet and better mood. Three studies also revealed a link between eating more fruits and vegetables and reduced anxiety, tension, and life satisfaction.

Not sure where to begin, but do you want your diet to be more nutrient-dense? View Healthline’s practical guide to eating well.

Simple dietary suggestions for improved mental health

Working directly with an expert, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, for specialized care is recommended if you exhibit symptoms of any mental health disorders.

However, if you want to make some simple dietary adjustments to boost your emotional health and wellbeing, here are a few ideas you may start with.

As you read through these suggestions, keep in mind that the overall effectiveness of your diet is more potent than any particular choice you make each day. Attempt to concentrate on a mix of beneficial nutrients rather than just one.

Take in a lot of these nutrients.

Following are a handful of the nutrients most famously associated with mental health, along with certain meals that contain them):

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: sardines, salmon, herring, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds
  • Black-eyed peas, spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, beef liver, rice, and fortified cereals
  • Oysters, beef liver, fortified cereals, spinach, dark chocolate, white beans, lentils, and tofu are all excellent sources of iron.
  • Magnesium-rich foods include spinach, chia seeds, almonds, cashews, peanuts, soy milk, and black beans. 
  • Zinc-rich foods include oysters, poultry, pork chops, beef roast, lobster, Alaska king crab, and pumpkin seeds. 
  • B vitamins are present in foods including chicken breast, cow liver, clams, tuna, salmon, chickpeas, potatoes, and bananas.
  • Beef liver, herring, cow’s milk, ricotta cheese, sweet potatoes, carrots, and melons are all sources of vitamin A. 
  • Orange and grapefruit juice, strawberries, broccoli, red and green peppers, and other foods high in vitamin C 

While probiotics contain good bacteria, prebiotics is meals that nourish the healthy bacteria in your stomach.

A balanced state of homeostasis (stability) in the gut is supported by a diet rich in pre-and probiotics. Some studies indicate they could affect how the body reacts to stress and sadness.

Among the foods that have prebiotics or probiotics are:

Foods that have been fermented include yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kombucha.

  • alliums: leeks, garlic, and onions
  • the two vegetables, artichokes, and asparagus
  • Apple and banana fruits
  • two types of grains
  • Consume an assortment of fruits and vegetables.

Numerous nutrients, including fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins B and C, and beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols, are abundant in fruits and vegetables and boost mental wellness.

In a recent evaluation of 61 research examining the relationship between fruit intake and mental health, it was discovered that increasing one’s intake of fruits and vegetables was linked to higher levels of optimism and self-efficacy as well as decreased levels of depression and psychological distress.

Among the fruits and vegetables that may have an impact on mental health care:

  • berries
  • the citrus fruit
  • green leaves
  • Get your fill of whole grains.

Cereals like oats, wheat, and rice that hasn’t been processed are considered whole grains. Consequently, they have more fiber and nutrients than refined grains, with specific plant components removed.

Anxiety, despair, and psychological discomfort were all associated with lower dietary fiber intake, according to a new study involving more than 3,000 participants.

Additionally, the fiber included in whole grains may have anti-inflammatory effects when digested in the gut, which may help benefit mental health via the gut-brain axis.

With your loved ones, have a meal.

Numerous factors influence how many of us choose our food.

The nutritional content of a food is frequently a top priority. Still, other considerations, such as the enjoyment we derive from communal dining, can and should also affect our food choices.

One of the oldest human customs is sharing meals with family, friends, and community members, which may help lift your mood when you’re feeling depressed.

unhealthy eating and lifestyle choices for mental health

Similar to how some foods, nutrients, and lifestyle choices appear to assist mental health, some can be detrimental.

Suppose you’ve found that some things tend to impair your mental state. In that case, you might want to think about consuming them only in moderation or avoiding them altogether.

super-processed meals

Foods that have undergone industrial processing procedures are referred to as ultra-processed foods.

They typically contain more calories, salt, added sugar, and unsaturated fats. They include sweets, baked products, beverages with added sugar, and salty snacks.

Regular use of highly processed meals throughout the week has been connected with an increased risk of feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety.

Therefore, it would be preferable to reserve ultra-processed foods for special occasions.

But remember that a wide range of goods—many of which are more practical and cost-effective than other foods—are included in the category of “processed foods.” Not all processed foods are thought to be unhealthy. Discover more here.

intake of alcohol

Drinking alcohol is intimately associated with mental health issues, and the two frequently interact in a feedback loop.

People experiencing the symptoms of mental health disorders may turn to alcohol for momentary solace only to discover that it worsens the symptoms they were already experiencing.

For instance, excessive alcohol use may worsen mood disorders, including melancholy, stress, and anxiety.

When you’re having mental health issues, it may be advisable to avoid alcohol or consume it in moderation, defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as no more than one drink for women and two for men daily.

erratic mealtimes

Our dietary preferences, circadian rhythm, inflammation, and gut microbiota have all been proven to influence the times of day we consume. These factors may all impact our mental health.

Unusual eating habits were linked to greater levels of neuroticism, decreased productivity, sleep issues, and other characteristics impair mental health, according to a new study including almost 4,500 adult workers.

Eating regular meals as frequently as you can help stabilize your mood. However, this isn’t always practicable.

sleep deprivation

Proper sleep is a crucial component of mental health, along with a nutritious diet, frequent exercise, and abstaining from alcohol and tobacco.

In addition to being linked to poorer mental health, sleep deprivation may also affect gut health and dietary preferences.

Caffeine is one thing that can ruin your sleep patterns, and young people may be more vulnerable to its effects. A short research of college students found a correlation between caffeine consumption and signs of anxiety and despair.

Energy drinks were strongly linked to restless nights, high levels of stress, and depression in a more extensive study including more than 68,000 teenagers. Interestingly, the impact was most significant in people who also often consumed processed meals.

Try to restrict your caffeine intake to the morning hours if you discover that you have problems falling asleep. Check out Healthline Sleep for additional options in the meanwhile.

How to alter your diet to boost your mental health

Change is not always straightforward, especially if trying to break old patterns that have developed through time.

Fortunately, if you prepare ahead of time, there are some actions you can take to make the transition simpler.

Be gentle with yourself.

It takes time to change one’s lifestyle. Therefore it won’t be possible to get from where you are now to where you want to be overnight.

Do not forget that change is a process. It’s common and acceptable to trip and fall along the road.

Mindfully eat

One of the most effective actions you can do to eat for your mental health is to pay close attention to how different foods and beverages make you feel.

If you’re unsure whether particular foods may impact your mental health, consider cutting them out of your diet to see if your mood improves.

Reintroduce them into your diet, and watch your feelings to see if anything has changed.

The core of the developing area of nutritional psychiatry is individualized techniques like mindful eating.

Begin tiny

Start by implementing one minor modification at a time rather than attempting to overhaul your diet overnight entirely.

This might be as basic as attempting to consume at least one piece of fruit daily or capping the number of caffeinated beverages you consume each week.

Attempt switching these foods.

The simple act of substituting meals that appear to support mental health for those that might not is a tiny chance that is simple, to begin with.

Listed below are a few instances of healthy food substitutions:

  • Choosing fresh foods over packaged and processed foods
  • instead of refined grains, choose whole grains
  • instead of dried fruit and juices, use entire fruits
  • substitute lean poultry or seafood for red and processed meats.
  • dairy that has been fermented rather than sweetened
  • Using fruit-infused water in place of soda
  • Alcohol can be substituted with kombucha or herbal tea.
  • Using herbs and spices rather than sugar and salt

Follow your development.

An excellent sensation arises from making a change and maintaining it.

It’s challenging to determine whether the adjustments you’ve made are genuinely effective unless you track how they affect your long-term objectives.

Consider a few strategies for progress monitoring and recording.

Simply keeping a journal about how various foods make you feel or using a checklist to keep track of the food types you consume each day might help you measure your progress.

The final word

The topic of nutritional psychiatry is fascinating and has the potential to change the way we view mental health.

Although there is still much to discover, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the state of our gut and the bacteria that live there are crucial for controlling our emotions and mental health.

In contrast to processed foods, which are linked to worse results and should probably be avoided, eating a nutritious diet may be one of the best methods to improve gut health.

Start with a few minor food substitutions and increase them as you go if you wish to alter your diet to improve your mental health.

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