When most people think about mental health, it’s easy to dissociate the physical side of things. But, more and more, studies are discovering some common links between physical and mental health. It’s important to construct the best diet for improved mental health.
One of those connections has to do with the old saying, “you are what you eat”. Your diet can actually have quite an impact over your mental health. There are even some foods that may contribute to certain mental health conditions, while others can benefit you.
Feeling down? Create the best diet for improved mental health
Eating right should be a part of your long-term health goals already, but it’s time to start considering making healthy eating a habit for more than just your physical health. So, what can you do to prioritize your diet to improve your mental health, and what foods should you be avoiding?
Go With Your Gut
One of the biggest connections between your diet and your mental health has to do with your gut. In fact, the gut is sometimes referred to as the second brain. Healthy gut bacteria can have a big impact on your mood, as the nerve cells in your GI tract can influence feelings of stress, hunger, and even anxiety. So, when you aren’t eating the right things it doesn’t bacteria healthy and happy. And, you start feeling depressed or anxious.
Your gut health and the ‘good’ bacteria you need can be impacted by a variety of different foods, but one of the biggest culprits is food that is high in sugar. You’ve probably heard of a “sugar rush” before, but there is always a crash that follows. Too much sugar can disrupt healthy gut bacteria and cause you to feel depressed, anxious, and stressed.
One of the best ways to manage your gut health (and subsequently, your mental health) is to take a holistic approach to your care. If you know you’re not eating the things your gut bacteria wants and you’re feeling the mental effects that come with it, changing your diet and exercising in tandem with seeking out mental health care that accepts insurance or Medicare is a great way to take your mental wellbeing into your own hands.
The Best Diet for Your Mental Health
There isn’t one “perfect” food that you should be eating to boost your mental health. But, certain foods contain vitamins and minerals which can improve your digestive tract and your mental wellbeing all at once. Because of that, it’s more important to focus on the nutrients within certain foods, rather than limiting yourself to certain ingredients and dishes. Some of the nutrients you should be focusing on for mental health include:
- Omega-3’s: Omega-3’s can help to reduce stress, make you feel calm, and boost your cognitive function. Salmon, walnuts, and flax seeds are all Omega-3 sources.
- Vitamin D: Most people know that you can get a dose of Vitamin D from the sun, and it’s a great mood booster. But, you can also find it in foods like orange juice, milk, and egg yolks.
- Protein: Protein can help to increase levels of serotonin in the brain, which can ease feelings of depression and boost your mood. Lean meats, oats, nuts and yogurt have high levels of protein.
- Fiber: Reduce depression symptoms, while improving both memory and mood with fiber. Foods with high fiber levels include: nuts and seeds, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.
Vitamins and minerals are found in common foods, making it easy to incorporate them into your diet. You might be surprised how quickly your mood and the way you feel changes when you introduce more of these foods into your eating plan.
Which Foods Should You Avoid?
Just like there is no singular “perfect” food for mental health, there isn’t one specific food you should avoid completely, either. However, a good rule of thumb is to eat as naturally as possible. That means taking advantage of organic, unprocessed foods.
Speaking of processed foods, they are often one of the biggest contributors to the mental health and diet connection, and certainly not in a good way. Processed foods typically contain a variety of artificial ingredients, colors, and preservatives. While they might make you feel good in the moment, they can seriously impact your gut health. They can also affect your mood, making you feel “down” several hours after eating them. Typical “fast food” options are processed and contain high levels of sugar, fat, and carbohydrates. These foods only contribute to physical health conditions like GERD and type 2 diabetes. They can also cause serious gut issues, affecting your mental state.
Other foods you might want to avoid or cut back on for your mental health include:
Fish with high levels of mercury
You don’t necessarily need to go on a specific diet plan to prioritize your mental health. Instead, you should strive for clean eating as much as possible. Choose whole foods that are meant to provide your mind and body with adequate nutrition, rather than foods that just might taste good in the moment, but leave you unhealthy and unhappy in the long run. Your diet should be about what your brain needs to be properly fueled. When you start to look at the way you eat from that perspective, it’s often easier to make healthy choices.
Author the Writer: Brooke Faulkner is a writer and mom in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. You can check out more of her writing on twitter, @faulknercreek