Fuel For Emotional Well-Being: How Your Diet Impacts Your Mental Health

Special to Palmetto Counseling’s Blog | August 26, 2019 5:00 PM EDT
This issue features an article by Christian Worstell

You’ve probably heard the term “you are what you eat” to refer to how what we put in our body affects our physical health. But does food’s impact go further than that?

The answer is yes, according to new mental health research.

The food you choose to eat might be affecting your physical health and mood. This process is called the food-mood connection.

Understanding the Food-Mood Connection

Recent studies have stated that there is a connection between depression and nutrition. These studies found that when female participants had a diet enriched with vitamin D, they tended to be at lower risk of depression than those who had lower amounts of vitamin D in their diet.

Research has also shown evidence of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet with helping to fight anxiety and depression. In fact, some people who switched their eating patterns to follow these diet guidelines reported that they no longer needed to take their antidepressants.

Another interesting aspect of the food-mood connection is that your mood is greatly affected by your gastrointestinal tract. So the saying “trust your gut” has a lot more relevance than you may think.

The way it works is that serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps us regulate our mood, sleep patterns, and appetite, is largely produced in our gastrointestinal tract. So your digestive system isn’t just helping you digest that burger you had for lunch. It’s also helping to regulate your mood by producing serotonin.

So what does this have to do with food again? Well, you have to trust and nurture your gut and fuel your body with good bacteria and nutrients that allow your gastrointestinal tract to work properly so that you can manage your mood effectively.

While I am not suggesting switching your diet is the cure for all mental health issues, it definitely plays a more significant role than most may think.

Other nutrients that contribute to overall well-being include folic acid, magnesium, tryptophan, omega-3 fatty acids, and the B vitamins. These nutrients can be found in everyday foods such as salmon, seeds and nuts, and leafy greens like spinach or broccoli. So next time you’re feeling low or worn down, try swapping out that fast food you go to for a quick fix and fuel your body with foods that contain these nutrients.

Getting the Appropriate Nutrients

Following a sensible and healthy diet should allow many of the above nutrients to be added naturally to your intake without even giving it much thought. However, according to the U.S. Department of Health, in order for a diet to be balanced and healthy, it should include a healthy balance of whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. You should also limit your intake of saturated fats, sugar, and sodium.

Along with the foods mentioned above, other foods to help keep you healthy include the following:

Whole foods

These are foods that are unprocessed, or not altered with artificial dyes and additives. Plant-based foods such as fresh veggies and fruits are great examples of whole foods.

Fiber

This helps the body digest glucose slower, which helps in avoiding sugar crashes and rushes. Fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans are a few examples of fiber-rich foods.

Antioxidants

Foods with antioxidants, such as leafy green veggies, salmon, and turmeric, are all a great natural anti-inflammatory.

Folate

Fresh leafy greens, cantaloupe, and lentils are examples of foods rich with Folate (a vitamin B), which provides dopamine production, an important nutrient for the nervous system.

Vitamin D

Foods rich in vitamin D, such as certain mushrooms, are good for fighting off depression. Some examples of foods rich in vitamin D include salmon, tuna, shiitake mushrooms, and cheese.

Magnesium

This mineral helps with both physical and mental health. Good sources of magnesium include almonds, cashews, spinach, beans, bananas, and even dark chocolate.

Even with the best intentions, obtaining and maintaining the necessary nutrients for physical and mental health on a daily basis can be challenging. It is important to look at nutrition as a lifestyle shift, not just the latest trendy diet.

Set goals for yourself, and rely on your support system as you transition into a healthier lifestyle. If you still feel like you are not getting enough nutrients through the food that you eat, a daily supplement may be helpful, but it should not take the place of a healthy diet.

It is also important to note that while food is a contributing factor to your mental health and wellbeing, it is not the only factor.

Mental illness can be serious, even life-threatening for some people. If you are struggling with mental health, don’t ignore it. Speak to your doctor and check in with your insurance provider to see what mental health services are covered for you because there is a wide variety of options for help and support.

Christian-Worstell

About the Author

Christian Worstell is a freelance writer who covers health and lifestyle topics for a range of blogs and media outlets. When he’s not behind the desk, he can usually be found on a golf course or spending time with his family.

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