The connection between mental health and diet
Mental health and diet; well, this is new. Are we grasping at straws here, or is there a real connection? What are we missing? For starters, a multi-angled perspective. See, human beings are exquisitely complex, but as with any other multilayered organism, the very potential of an omnipotent nature rides on our ability to cognize the inherent dead spots. Meaning? We can be short-sighted. And stubborn. Oh, and we also enjoy dismissing a less obvious narrative. Why? Well, although holistic by nature, we can’t help but fixate on the tangible: causes, experiences, explanations, dreams even. So, yes, the connection between mental health and diet gets easily overlooked simply by being inconspicuous at its core. Does that make it any less relevant? God, no. On the contrary. Here are all the beautiful cognitive functions you need to know about this special bond.
Is there a connection between mental health and diet?
Oh, indeed. Is it palpable? To the untrained eye, the connection remains pretty stealthy. So, how does food affect our mental well-being? We are more than able to grasp the concept of poor nutrition and physical illness. Why? Because we can feel it, see it, practically – touch it. We know what junk food does to our bodies; high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other looming health ailments. And, surely, it is frightening. But, we are provided with concrete proof. Hence, we know exactly where we stand regarding our physical health. The blind spot? – If the body is unhealthy, the mind will follow into the darkness. Studies show that nutrition directly dictates our emotional and mental well-being. So, is there a connection? Undeniably so.
What is missing?
The bigger picture. Unlike the body, the human mind remains impenetrable and veiled in mystery. Today, it is estimated that around 50 percent of the U.S. population will be diagnosed with a mental health condition at a certain point in their lives. And ever since the pandemic, the need for top online therapy services has been growing at a tremendous pace. The most common mental health issues include:
- eating disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, delusional disorder, etc.
- anxiety disorders such as OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), phobias, panic disorder
- mood disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, etc.
- personality disorders
So, the present (and the future?) of the mental health department looks somewhat bleak. A sensible question: what can we do to alleviate the condition? I’m glad you asked. This is where the mind and diet connection comes in and potentially saves the day.
How does food affect my mental health?
The truth? We’re not sure. Entirely. But we’re getting there. In the meantime, there are some speculations that could unravel the mystery. We might not know (right now) exactly how, process-by-process, culprit-to-victim, nutrition affects our mental health, but it has a lot to do with our body’s natural response to healthy – or unhealthy food.
Inflammation, fluctuations in sugar levels (blood glucose), or the effects of food intake on the microbiome (gut microorganisms) could shed some light on the very intricacies of mental health and diet connection. Additionally, eating healthy can help prevent chronic disease onset, which can severely affect mental health.
Mood and food
Behind the scenes? Here’s how it works. What’s essential is invisible to the eye, so, of course, we overlook the importance of the gut-brain axis. But let’s think about it for a second. It only makes sense that the foods we consume have just as powerful an impact on our mental sphere as they do on the physical bits. The reason our food choices have such a strong hold on our brain is that “the gut”, or the gastrointestinal system, is inconceivably connected to the brain—IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) readers already know this. Our gut is home to billions or even trillions of bacteria and living microbes whose function is to regulate the following:
A fairly new field called nutritional psychiatry is here to help us understand the importance of nutrition and diet and the way they affect our mental landscape. Very much like online anxiety counseling, the goal is to treat mental health conditions by implementing lifestyle changes that include a healthy diet.
A nice fluffy otter reel would be preferable, but, unfortunately, the gut is all business, no fun. So what do the trillions of bacteria do? They work around the clock so as to deliver the intended message to the brain in a timely manner. Their favorite line: “Don’t shoot the messenger!” Now, without using humor, 95% of our serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. The tract is lined with millions of neurons and nerve cells that are influenced by the “good bacteria” that make the intestinal microbiome. Makes sense? Now, the role of bacteria is essential for our health. The healthier food, the better the bacteria. The more potent the bacteria, the more stimulated the chemicals that produce serotonin and dopamine. You know, the happy stuff.
The two scenarios
- We eat junk food – we have mutiny downstairs. The production: a downward spiral. Nothing good happens. Boomerangs back in a “very bad mood” shape.
- We eat healthy food– let there be light. Mary Poppins scenario. The production: A+. The brain receives positive messages and rewards us with a fine mood.
Mental health and modern-day diet
Globally speaking, mental health has certainly seen better days. And who could blame us? The ceaseless spiral lives on. Depression, anxiety disorders, and the coping mechanism gang are merely trying to help us stay afloat. (and, yes, nobody told them they were doing a pretty lousy job) But here we are. Stuck with our mental hindrances. The least we could eat well while we’re here, no?
Along with high-quality online behavioral therapy, of course. If we really want to get well (or just better, for the less optimistic among us), we should stay clear of WPD, The Western Pattern Diet, or, as the folks would say—the Standard American Diet. This modern-day diet is primarily based on high amounts of processed foods, high-sugar foods, pre-packaged foods, red meat, and high-fat dairy products. WPD not only increases the risk of chronic illness, but it also affects mental health conditions.
Healthy diet tips
We’re all done with the “doom and gloom” talk. Now, the fun part. So, what should we be putting in our shopping carts? Before we begin, let’s take a moment to thank Mother Nature for having our back, no matter what. – All done? Beautiful. So, healthy foods. We know that a nutrient-rich diet helps produce changes in brain proteins that, in return, improve the “wiring”, or the connection between brain cells. In contrast to WPD, a large European study suggests that a lower sugar intake is associated with better long-term psychological health. (hence, the Mediterranean diet.)
So, for instance, a person suffering from depression should (other than finding the best online therapy for depression) be able to experience relief after introducing the following:
- Fermented foods
- Whole foods
- Vitamin D
Does it sound pretty? Not necessarily. Is it healthy? Yes. And delicious, too. Fermented foods are basically probiotic bombs containing “good guy” bacteria that are more than good for our gastrointestinal tract. (remember the talk about the gut) Fermented foods include:
- dry curd cottage cheese
- plain yogurt
- fermented vegetables
It might not be suitable for individuals with high blood pressure, as this type of food is commonly high in sodium.
Magnesium is one of the mineral OGs in the body, as it plays various crucial roles, from supporting muscle and nerve function to ensuring sufficient energy production. Other than tangible benefits, it also plays a vital role in the gut-brain axis. If there’s magnesium deficiency, the bacteria can cause anxiety and depression-like symptoms. Magnesium-packed foods include:
- pumpkin seeds
- spinach and other super-green leafs
- chia seed
This is where it gets real, kids. Studies show that additives (anything from high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, and artificial sweeteners to food dye) can cause or exacerbate mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and hyperactivity. As unbelievable as it may sound, processed foods really are that powerful in the most malicious ways imaginable.
So, instead of going through the struggle of trying to find the best online therapy for teens, we should try and introduce real food to the table. Whole foods include:
- whole grains
So, what are whole foods? Just think of food that you recognize as an entity that exists in nature. If it makes sense and fits the picture – it’s whole foods.
We can’t eat the Sun. But there are ways. Vitamin D is crucial for maintaining healthy serotonin levels. Now, although most of our intake does come from the gentle caressing of the much-cherished sunlight, there are other viable sources. Vitamin D foods include:
- oily fish, like salmon, sardines, and mackerel
- egg yolks
- red meat
If our vitamin D levels are deficient, our doctor might recommend considering a supplement. That works, too. But remember the golden rule: real food. Relying solely on supplements is anything but a good plan.
Fiber foods are great for explaining the mental health and diet connection in detail. What happens when our diet lacks fiber foods? We get sugar-crazy. Someone suffering from bipolar disorder is more likely to experience hyperactive outbursts and irritability. Why? Because without fiber (plant-based foods) which helps regulate glucose absorption, we’re bound to experience wild sugar rushes and, consequently, crashes. Fiber-packed foods keep our mood swings in check. They include:
- dried fruits
- whole grains
A diet rich in antioxidants is extremely important. Other than preventing age-related brain cell damage, antioxidants can also help alleviate inflammation associated with stress, anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Heavily based on omega-3 acids, antioxidants are exceptionally good at regenerating brain cells, as well as building new ones. Antioxidant foods include:
- sweet potatoes
- collard greens
- dark chocolate
Also known as vitamin B-9, folate is considered one of the essential nutrients for the human body. It helps with healthy cell growth and function, as well as dopamine production. Folate foods include:
- beef liver
- leafy greens
- sunflower seed
Foods to avoid
However, there are a few no-nos. Let’s take a look at the list of the “banished”.
- Alcohol consumption
- Ultra-processed foods
- Skipping meals
Alcohol and mental health conditions make a vicious symbiosis. Those who struggle with mental health often use alcohol as their go-to pain reliever. Unfortunately, it always backfires. 10/10. Alcohol can only worsen the symptoms experienced by the individual, whether it be anxiety, depression, or chronic stress. Episodes of heightened emotions can be alleviated in a healthier way. Finding the best online DBT therapy available can be of tremendous help.
Ultra-processed foods (industrial processing technique) are higher in salt, added sugar, and unsaturated fats. Oh, let’s not forget the calorie galore. Indulging in mouthwatering goodies like sweetened beverages, salty snacks, candy, and bakery goods leads to more intense symptoms associated with mental health conditions (anxiety, depression, stress, etc.)
When we eat is just as important as what we’re eating. If irregular or unnatural, time intervals influence our gut-brain axis, increasing the chances of inflammation and affecting our circadian rhythm—all of which can worsen our mental health condition. Domino effect. Irregular eating patterns are linked to loss of productivity, insomnia, and levels of neuroticism.
Understanding the connection between mental health and diet has never been more important. However, it shouldn’t end there. Without successful implementation, the journey to obtaining a better tomorrow cannot commence. If you find that your current mental state needs a friendly, gentle push, we’re here for you. You can find all the best online therapy services and providers at the Consumer Opinion Guide. Our experts have all the information a human being in distress could ever need. Godspeed.