Since childhood, we are taught that healthy eating enhances our body functioning as well as staying energized. However, we are not educated on how healthy eating can have an impact on our mental health.
A healthy meal that comprises a balanced diet can positively impact our thinking capacity and be attentive. On the other hand, unhealthy eating can lead to fatigue and negative impacts on our thinking capacity. An unhealthy diet has also been linked to stress and anxiety.
Unfortunately, society has been addicted to processed foods. Maybe due to ignorance or being too busy to prepare a healthy meal. But without knowing it, most people crave this food due to the higher levels of sugar and flour present in processed food.
Most processed foods are highly addictive and stimulate dopamine centers in the brain associated with pleasure and reward. To stop cravings, you should avoid processed food as much as possible and instead learn to eat fruits and veggies regularly.
The Science Behind Food and Mood (Mental Health)
The relationship between food and mood results from the connection between the brain and gastrointestinal tract (GI). The GI shelters hundreds of millions of bacteria that enhance the production of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine are substances that transmit messages from the gut to the brain.
Healthy eating promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria, which later positively affect the production of neurotransmitters. On the other hand, regular junk eating can cause inflammation that interferes with production. When you have a healthy neurotransmitter production, the message is sent to your brain, and your mood reflects on it.
With unhealthy neurotransmitter production, you are likely to have mood swings that can result in stress and anxiety.
For instance, sugar is a great source of inflammation, enhancing harmful bacteria in the GI tract. It can also lead to a spike in the neurotransmitters that make us feel good such as dopamine, which is not good for your health.
Sticking to healthy eating, you are signing in for fewer mood swings and a happy living with high levels of attentiveness. Unhealthy eating is believed to increase risks of dementia or stroke, while healthy eating decreases symptoms of depression and anxiety.
How to Manage Your Mental Health With Food
Here are some ways to explore the connections between your diet and your feelings.
When the blood sugar level drops, you may feel tired, irritable, and depressed. Eating food that ensures a slow release of energy can help keep the sugar levels balanced.
Foods that ensure a slow release of energy include rice, pasta, oats, nuts and seeds, and wholegrain bread and cereals.
Do not skip breakfast, and instead of having large amounts for lunch and dinner, you should eat small portions after a while throughout the day. Avoid foods that impact sugar levels rapidly, such as biscuits, sweets, and sugary beverages.
Staying hydrated promotes mental health
When dehydrated, it’s difficult to concentrate or to make informed decisions. Dehydration also leads to constipation which results in a bad mood. Ensure that you take 6-8 glasses of healthy fluid a day (especially clean water). Any other drink such as tea, coffee, or juice counts on your fluid intake, but they might be harmful since they contain caffeine or sugar.
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamins, fiber, and minerals needed to promote physical and mental wellness. Eating different kinds of vegetables and different colored fruits regularly means your nutrients needs are sorted out. You should ensure that you have your five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
Share meals with others
There are various advantages of sharing meals with other people, ranging from social to biological benefits. Socially, when you share meals with other people, you have a chance to reflect on others and talk about other things apart from your stressful staff.
Biologically, when eating in upright seats, you are working on your digestion. Additionally, when you eat while talking and listening, you slow down and do not eat fast.
Ensure that you set aside a day or two in a week where you share meals with family and friends. Choose an easy-to-make recipe so that it does not get tiresome. Share responsibility so that it gets some kind of fun. Switch off the TV so that you can chat and listen to others.
Food That Enhances Mental Health
The following are foods that can help enhance mental health:
Plants are good for your mental health
This is more of a food category than type. Most foods such as fruits, legumes, grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are in this category. In a 2020 study with results published in the journal Clinical Nutrition, a healthy plant-based meal is associated with lower risks of anxiety, depression, and psychological distress in females. However, eating food from unhealthy plants only increases the risk of depression.
Individuals who consume nuts regularly are less likely to be depressed than those who do not. Specifically, people who eat walnuts are less likely to be depressed compared to other nut eaters or those who do not eat nuts at all.
Walnuts are a great source of unsaturated fat. People who take unsaturated fat are less likely to experience anxiety.
Whole grains are associated with low risks of depression. Women who eat whole grains regularly are less likely to be depressed than those who do not. Remember, eating refined grains such as white rice or white bread isn’t the same as eating whole grains; hence they do not reduce the chances of being depressed.
Other foods that enhance mental health include berries and cold-water seafood.
Eating Well for Mental Health – Final Thoughts
Although eating regularly can reduce your chances of being depressed, it depends on what you are eating and the portions per serving. If you are afraid that you find refuge in eating whenever you are stressed out, you should seek a therapist’s advice since you could be experiencing an eating disorder that can hurt your mental health.
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