Can You Eat Your Way to Better Mental Health?
While most people understand the connection between diet and physical health, few even consider the link between diet and mental health – but what you eat can have a larger effect on how you think and feel than you might realise.
The foods you consume have a pronounced effect on your energy level, alertness, digestive health and immune system. Just like your heart or your liver, your brain is an organ and its only source of fuel is the food that you eat.
The foods we eat contribute to the production and release of the chemicals that affect our cognitive functioning and mood, and can be a powerful intervention tool for disorders like anxiety and depression.
Can Diet Really Promote Good Mental Health? Research Says: Yes
A growing body of research confirms this connection between diet and mental wellness. For example, a link has been found between unhealthy food and mental health issues such that those who report more mental health issues consume more processed, pre-packaged and nutritionally void foods such as crisps and chocolate, and fewer fresh fruits, vegetables and healthy meals prepared from scratch.
Further investigations have found that deficiencies in folic acid and selenium (found in leafy greens) have been linked to depression, fatigue, insomnia and anxiety. Eating spinach, kale, broccoli and the like can give you the nutrients you need to combat these ailments.
Most vitamin-rich produce is a safe bet for promoting both physical and mental health. In fact, one study on middle-aged women found that those who consumed six daily servings of fruit and vegetables suffered lower rates of psychological distress.
The combined results of these studies and others investigating the link between diet and mental health reach the conclusion that eating a diet rich in in complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, water, amino acids and essential fats while avoiding processed foods and alcohol is the secret to optimising our mental wellness.
Depression, Anxiety and Nutrition
Many links have been found between diet and two of the most common mental health complaints: depression and anxiety. While these two ailments are certainly not caused by what you eat, nutrition has been found to play a role in the experience, severity and duration of the symptoms.
Investigations into the diet of depression sufferers have found that their diets often provide inadequate nutrition. Depression suffers tend to make poor food choices, have less appetite and crave and consume more sweets. They also tend to consume more foods that might actually contribute to depression. One study found that people who consume a diet of unhealthy, processed ‘junk’ foods have a 58 per cent higher risk of depression compared to those who eat a diet of nutritious, whole foods.
How to Eat to Combat Depression
Unsurprisingly, levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, responsible for producing feelings of happiness and pleasure, are often deficient in people who experience depression. Specific amino acids that are present in certain foods can be converted into these neurochemicals. The most prominent example is tryptophan, which can be found in foods like eggs, cheese, salmon, turkey, pineapple, nuts and tofu. Tryptophan can be metabolised into serotonin as well as the precursors to dopamine synthesis. Eating a diet rich in foods that increase dopamine and serotonin levels leaves you with the best chances of having sufficient levels of these feel-good neurochemicals.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods such as fish and eggs, are another major player in improving symptoms of depression as they have been found to have significant mood-boosting properties. Ensure you’re eating enough of these foods if you find yourself depressed or with a generally low mood.
Understanding the Link Between Diet and Anxiety
When you feel anxious it’s easy to notice the effect it has on your stomach and digestion – your stomach may feel in knots and you will likely not even want to look at food. And while anxiety can affect what goes on in your stomach, what’s going on in your stomach can also exacerbate your anxiety. In fact, acid reflux and anxiety have been found to both contribute to and worsen one another.
How to Eat an Anti-anxiety Diet
Eating to beat anxiety has a little to do with the foods that you eat and a lot to do with the foods that you should avoid.
Obviously, since acid reflux can contribute to feelings of anxiety, it’s advisable to avoid anything that is likely to induce it, such as alcohol, tobacco, fried foods, spicy foods, dairy products, garlic and onions, soda, candy and chocolate to name a few.
Consumption of highly acidic foods like citrus fruits and tomatoes and sugary junk foods should be avoided not only due to their ability to cause acid reflux, but also because these foods are able to cause symptoms of anxiety in their own right.
Further, to minimise anxiety, steer clear of substances like alcohol, tobacco and caffeine and any other substance with stimulant properties. These stimulants increase heartrate and can mimic and heighten anxiety symptoms.
Fluctuations in blood sugar can also worsen anxiety so high-sugar foods that are high in simple carbohydrates should be avoided to prevent dramatic dips and spikes in blood sugar.
The best diet for keeping anxiety at bay includes plenty of water, lots of vegetables and whole grains, lean protein (especially in the morning) and plenty of complex carbohydrates that help to stabilise blood sugars.
Treatment For Anxiety, Depression and More at The Cabin Bangkok
Good nutrition is important in keeping both your mind and body healthy, but it’s not the only factor to consider. Making sure you are getting all of the nutrients you need to optimise your mental health and avoiding foods that threaten it can go a long way toward reducing your symptoms. But the best treatment for mental health concerns remains professional care from mental wellness professionals.
The mental health team at The Cabin Bangkok are experts at assessing and treating the entire spectrum of mental wellness concerns. Find out how much more peaceful your life can feel in our care – contact us today.