The Link Between Nutrition and Mental Health

woman with hypothyroidism smiling in front of a grocery bag of nutritious food

It’s common knowledge that your diet directly influences your health. Your eating choices affect your weight, skin, and gut health. They can put you at risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. The food you eat affects nearly every aspect of your life, from your athletic performance to the way you interact with your kids. Continued research indicates that nutrition also plays a vital role in your emotional well-being. Amid the recent rise in quantity and severity of mental health conditions, researchers are constantly looking for ways to bolster emotional stability. Changing your diet may be one such approach.

The Negative Impact of the Western Diet

The American Psychological Association conducted a study across ten countries to determine the extent to which dietary patterns may contribute to mental illnesses. The study focused in particular on depression, which the World Health Organization warns could become one of the top public health concerns in the next decade. Their findings conclusively linked a Western-style diet to an abundance of health complications.

As popularized in the United States, a “Western-style” diet includes a high intake of red and processed meats, refined grains, added sugars, saturated fats, and a low intake of fruits and vegetables. Research cemented the connection between this form of diet and clinical depression, also reporting a higher prevalence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder diagnoses. An additional study focused on adults over the age of 60 found links between diets high in saturated fat and added sugars and significantly higher levels of anxiety.

Diet and Depression

Although there has been a limited amount of research on the link between dietary patterns and mental health, consistent data is beginning to reveal a trend between the negative effects of an unhealthy diet and numerous mental health disorders.

One of the first randomized controlled trials that sought to determine the role of diet in treating depression was an examination of 67 individuals diagnosed with moderate or severe depression. The participants received either dietary counseling or social support in addition to their current treatment. The group that followed a diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy oils, legumes, raw nuts, and conservative amounts of red meat and dairy experienced significant improvement in their depressive symptoms.

It is important to note that both the observational studies and the randomized controlled trials work under limitations and cannot definitively prove cause and effect. This makes additional research on the standardized definition of a healthy diet very important. The more studies we conduct, the better we’ll understand the connection between nutrition and mental health. This understanding will allow us to develop targeted dietary interventions to help people overcome various illnesses.

Healthy Eating Habits Make a Difference

Paying attention to your eating choices can help you to make healthier decisions in the interest of your long-term wellness. To make positive dietary changes in your life, consult with your healthcare provider about your personal needs, then try introducing more of these options into your regular meals:

  • Whole Foods – Research has shown that preservatives, food colorings, and other additives can cause or worsen depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Choose foods that are fresh, minimally processed, and contain healthy ingredients.
  • Fiber – Plant-based foods help slow your body’s absorption of glucose, allowing you to avoid sugar rushes and crashes. You can find fiber-rich foods in the produce department or whole grains and beans.
  • Antioxidants – Antioxidants help your body fight inflammation. You can find these in your local grocery store in the form of berries, leafy green vegetables, and foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids, like fish and plant seed oils.
  • Folate – Folate is a B vitamin that has been shown to help with dopamine production. Folate can be found in leafy greens, lentils, and cantaloupes.
  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D helps your body produce serotonin. Sunlight is a great source of natural vitamin D; for a tasty dietary alternative, try mushrooms, especially Reishi, cordyceps, and maitake.
  • Magnesium – This multi-tasking mineral is essential to keeping your body thriving by contributing to nerve health, muscle function, and heart stability. Studies have also shown that a mineral deficiency can negatively affect your gut and cause depression and anxiety. Magnesium is found in dark chocolate, cacao nibs, almonds, spinach, and bananas.
  • Fermented foods – While they can be something of an acquired taste, fermented foods are packed with probiotics that are great for your digestive tract. Examples include sauerkraut, miso, and the fermented drink kombucha.

It can take time for positive changes in your diet to produce results. The best thing you can do is to be mindful of what you’re putting into your body and indulge in moderation.

On top of the knowledge that your dietary choices directly affect your physical well-being, research has established multiple links between the food you choose to consume and your mental health. Eliminate processed foods and items high in preservatives or added sugar. Try increasing your fruits and vegetable intake and look into other healthy foods. Keep a journal to help you record the pros and cons that you experience as you introduce new foods into your diet. Everyone responds to dietary changes differently, so for best results, consult with a trusted healthcare professional about creating an individualized eating plan. If you’re ready to make decisions in the interest of your long-term wellness, reach out to Achieve Concierge today. We’re here to provide personalized support to help you navigate the exciting possibilities that a new approach to your diet can entail. Make positive changes that stick. Call us at (619) 393-5871 to learn more.

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