Diet and mental health
Can what you eat affect how you feel? Diet is an essential component of social, emotional, and mental health. This article is your guide to understanding how your diet can affect your mental health and well-being.
It is well known that diet plays a fundamental role in health and well-being.
But over time, we learn what role diet plays in social, emotional, and mental health.
While there is still much to be learned about the deep connection between diet and mental health, we have strong evidence that the two are very closely related.
This article is your guide to understanding how your diet can affect your mental health and well-being.
We'll share what we know so far about the relationship between nutrition and mental health, look at specific eating patterns that can improve mental health, and explore simple steps you can take to support a healthy mental state.
Diet and mental health: Is there a link?
Historically, mental illness has been treated through psychiatric therapies such as counseling, medication, and sometimes hospitalization.
Today, a nascent field called nutritional psychiatry focuses on how diet and nutrition affect how people feel mentally. It aims to support the treatment of mental conditions through diet and lifestyle changes.
We may have taken it for granted in the past, but it makes sense that the foods we eat have the same effect on our brains as they do on the rest of the body.
One of the reasons why our food choices affect our brains so much is because our gastrointestinal system - or what is more commonly referred to as the "gut" - is very closely connected to the brain.
The gut is home to trillions of living microbes that perform many functions in the body, such as synthesizing neurotransmitters that send chemical messages to the brain to regulate sleep, pain, appetite, mood, and emotions.
There is such an intricate network of interactions between them that the gut has been nicknamed the “second brain.” Formally, the relationship between them is called the “gut-brain connection” or “gut-brain axis”.
We still have a lot to learn, but research shows that the foods we eat affect the health of gut microbial colonies, which subsequently affect our brains and thus our mental and emotional health.
Dietary patterns linked to improved mental health
There is some evidence that certain eating patterns can help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and mood in general.
For the treatment of depression Mediterranean diet
Over the past few years, numerous studies have seen a link between diet, gut health, and the risk of developing depression.
One study found that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes and low in red and processed meats was associated with a 10% lower chance of developing depressive symptoms.
At least two landmark studies have directly measured the ability of the Mediterranean diet to reduce rates of depression in experimental groups, with promising results.
While not all studies on the subject have found such striking results, more human trials are still needed. However, early evidence is compelling.
Some medical establishments are even beginning to recommend a Mediterranean-like diet to support gut health and reduce the risk of depression.
To follow the Mediterranean diet, increase your intake of:
- a fish
- olive oil
- dairy products
The Mediterranean diet limits:
- fried foods
- processed meat
- bakery products
- sweetened drinks
Remember that choosing a diet based on the principles of the Mediterranean diet does not necessarily mean giving up your cultural products.
Your eating habits should include foods that are readily available locally and that are culturally or personally meaningful to you.
For stress and anxiety: Limit alcohol, caffeine, and high-sugar foods
Several substances in particular can exacerbate anxiety symptoms: alcohol, caffeine, and added sugars.
What's more, research has shown a correlation between anxiety and high saturated fat intake, low fruit intake, and overall poor dietary quality.
If you find yourself feeling particularly tense or anxious, you may need to adjust your diet as part of your treatment plan. Consider cutting back on alcohol, caffeine, and added sugars.
Instead, choose more foods that can reduce inflammation and stress throughout your body, such as fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, unsaturated fats, and bacteria-rich fermented foods.
For Mood and Mental Well-Being: A Diet High in Nutrients
To improve your mood, one of the best things you can do in terms of diet is to simply eat well-balanced foods that contain a variety of health-promoting nutrients.
While researchers are still studying the relationship between food and mental health, numerous studies confirm that eating a high-quality, nutrient-dense diet is essential to improve mood.
For example, three studies found that eating more fruits and vegetables was associated with less anxiety, less stress, and greater life satisfaction, and a review of the literature linked higher quality nutrition to improved mood.
Medications are commonly used to manage neurological and psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, insomnia, and bipolar disorder.
Many of these drugs interact with certain foods. Certain foods can decrease or increase the effect of drugs, and the drugs themselves can affect a person's nutritional status.
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