The Importance of Food in Mental Health
Food And Mental Health
I recently read an article on nutritional psychiatry that discussed whether you can eat yourself to a happier you. The article itself is just a broad overview of the topic and does not really give much solid advice but it sparked my interest so I decided to have a look further into this topic. Personally I have been interested in nutrition for many years and I believe that diet can make a big difference not only to your physical health but mental health also.
We all know how food affects not only our physical health but our mental health too, by influencing our mood. Have you noticed that eating certain food makes you feel great while certain food makes you feel ill at ease? There is a good reason for that as research shows. Nutritious food is required for our body to function well, more so our brain. In fact, the brain accounts for 1/5th of our body’s energy consumption. All nutrients play an important role in brain health and function. Studies have also shown a strong link between poor diet and the worsening of mental disorders like anxiety and depression.
Gut Health and Mental Disorders
The gut and brain are connected and are constantly communicating with each other. This is why the gut is also called the second brain. What happens in our mind directly affects our gut and vice versa. Stress can affect our gut in various ways. It can cause inflammation, shift the body from a state of rest to a state of fight and flight, affect our immunity, affect the production of hormones and the neurotransmitters like serotonin which is produced in the gut. An imbalance in Serotonin and cortisol can lead to major disorders like depression and other serious conditions such as hypertension, stroke or heart disease. To know more on Serotonin please read my hub:
According to various studies on diet and depression, eating a healthy diet improved depression symptoms considerably in young people. Moreover, it was observed that the subjects managed to maintain a good disposition upon continuing to follow a healthy diet.
Foods to Avoid
Eating junk food might seem fun at the time but in the long run, your body will not function smoothly and that includes your brain. The brain is a physical organ and it needs the right fuel in order to function properly. So if you eat loads of junk food it is but natural that your brain will not run efficiently and you will not feel so good mentally or emotionally after a certain period of time.
Nutritionists and health care experts suggest that people suffering from mental health issues should restrict the following food items:
- Studies have shown that mood-related drinking can lead to dependence and make people vulnerable to developing major depression. No doubt it is nice to have a few drinks to help you relax but the resulting hangover is just not worth it. Hangovers result from dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. It also causes a heightened sense of anxiety and agitation that results from dehydration. We hear lots of stories of people having their first panic attack after a big party the night before. More often than not all it takes is some stress plus a hangover to really give a person a slamming out-of-the-blue panic attack which might be while traveling home on a plane after a week of enjoying the holidays or having to work a stressful situation at work, the next day with a hangover. Alcohol also like coffee disrupts sleep and can cause tiredness due to lack of proper sleep.
- Excess sugar causes extreme fluctuations in your blood sugar levels. These fluctuations cause small amounts of adrenaline to be released into your system throughout the day. Foods that are very high in sugar are sweets, cakes, chocolates, soft drinks, and ice cream. It feels too good to have them but they are not good for health in the long run. You will be surprised at how much energy and mental clarity you get once you are off sugar for a few days. Chocolate is the favorite most people choose when they have a craving for sweets. But a healthier choice would be dark chocolate which contains more than 70% cocoa and less sugar and fat as compared to milk chocolates. Too much sugar can cause mood disorders and increase the risk of depression and several chronic health issues. So it is always safe to go for naturally occurring complex carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables, and grains.
To learn more on depression, please read my hub: https://hubpages.com/health/What-Is-Depression-And-How-to-Avoid-It
- Caffeine found in coffee, tea, and other energy drinks, is a powerful stimulant that can make you feel very nervous, anxious and jittery. Though it can act as a mild stimulant and can improve mental performance, especially alertness, attention and concentration to a certain extent, too much caffeine can cause fast heartbeat irritability, headache, muscle tremors and also disrupt sleep. It can even trigger an anxiety attack. Lack of sleep can worsen depression symptoms. People who are susceptible to panic or anxiety disorders are more sensitive to their harmful effects. So limiting the consumption of caffeinated drinks to boost energy is advised. To learn more on anxiety disorders please read my hub: https://hubpages.com/health/Anxiety-Disorders-And-Best-Natural-Remedies-For-Anxiety
Foods to Improve Mental health
Good nutrition can fight inflammation as well as improve the health of your gut. Most of the serotonin is made in the gut, as there are more Serotonin receptors in the gut than in the brain, it is very important to protect gut health. Good nutrition also promotes Neuroplasticity which is the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. It is important to plan a diet that is good not only for your gut but for your brain too. And by improving your nutrition you have a much better chance of recovering from and also preventing mood and anxiety disorders. So here is a list of food items that are good for your mental health:
1. Eat bananas, Feel Happy
- The deficiency of Serotonin can lead to depression. Bananas are rich in tryptophan, vitamins A, B, and C. They also contain potassium, phosphorous, apart from being a rich source of carbohydrate and fiber. The carbohydrates help in the absorption of tryptophan and vitamin B6 helps in its conversion to mood-enhancing Serotonin. They are also known to reduce anxiety, enhance memory and concentration as they are known to promote the production of Serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids to Combat Depression
Studies have shown that fish oil contains Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids which are known to induce an antidepressant effect. Omega 3 fatty acids reduce cholesterol, impact the cardiovascular system and support your immune system. This nutrient is used to build brain and nerve cells and is responsible for cognitive memory and overall brain function. It also helps keep brain inflammation in check, thereby preventing Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, autism, cerebral palsy, and ADHD. There are some really interesting studies that show that mega fatty acids can actually impact your brain cells and improve their function. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in seafood especially salmon, sardines, mackerel, pilchard, herring trout and tuna, asparagus and flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, which are the vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids. For more ion Parkinson's disease please read my hub: https://hubpages.com/health/Things-to-avoid-doing-with-Parkinsons-disease.
3. Magnesium Rich Foods to Deal With Stress
Lentils are rich in magnesium which helps in providing sustained energy resources that are needed when you are dealing with stress. In addition, the fiber in the lentils helps in improving gut health which in turn improves mental health. Magnesium is known to be effective in the treatment of depression and its deficiency usually causes depression and other related mental disorders. Adding Magnesium to the diet can help combat panic attacks, anxiety, depression, and such disorders. It is often prescribed as a mood stabilizer in Bipolar disorder. It is a natural muscle relaxant. Magnesium has a calming effect and can be found in leafy greens such as spinach and Swiss chard, in oysters, cashews, liver, beef, and egg yolks.
4. Nuts to Stabilize Mood
Nuts and seeds like pumpkin seeds, cashew, almond, peanuts are rich in magnesium and zinc which help in relaxing muscles and act as a mood stabilizer, resulting in overall health. Nuts not only help in supplementing omega 3 fats but also are a rich source of protein and help keep blood sugar levels balanced. Studies have shown that people who ate nuts, especially walnuts daily had higher levels of concentration, optimism, better mood, and higher energy levels. Pumpkin and squash seeds are a great source of tryptophan which helps increase Serotonin. Flax seeds and chia seeds have omega 3 fats which are known to help people fighting depression. A word of caution here as some people can be allergic to nuts. Ensure that you are not allergic to any nuts before including them in your diet.
5. Aswagandha and Brahmi
Ashwagandha, also known as ginseng or winter cherry is a popular supplement with medicinal properties that can help in reducing stress and anxiety by balancing the stress hormone Cortisol. Brahmi, a native herb of India which is used in Ayurvedic medicines ( Ayurveda is an alternative, holistic medicinal practice which involves using plants, herbs, minerals in the medicines) is known to reduce stress, enhance comfort and boost cognitive abilities.
6. Diet based on the Underlying Cause of the Disorder
The underlying cause of the disorder should be determined, for finding a good diet. For example, if you have thyroid issues and feel fatigued when you wake up and feel blue, having dairy products like milk and yogurt helps as it is rich in iodine and helps in beating stress and anxiety. Whereas some medical conditions like anorexia, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, and Other Psychoses will need medical intervention and depending on the medicines advised, a suitable diet has to be charted out, with the help of the doctors and nutritionists.
7. Vitamin B Supplements
Vitamin B and Vitamin C are essential vitamins that you have to have in your diet for optimal health. Chronic Stress reduces vitamin B in our body which can again cause fatigue, irritability, restlessness, listlessness, apathy, and insomnia. Studies have shown that pregnant mothers that had significantly low vitamin B12, gave birth to infants who experienced developmental delays, fatigue, irritability and had lack of cognitive ability compared to other infants in the same age group. Avocado, green leafy vegetables, legumes, whole grains, eggs, meat, almonds are good sources of Vitamin B. Citrus Fruits such as oranges, kiwi, lemon, guava, grapefruit, vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, capsicums, Brussel sprouts are rich natural sources of Vitamin C.
8. Green Tea
Green tea has antioxidants called polyphenols which regulate your glucose levels and increase dopamine, a neurotransmitter is important for motivation and emotion and feelings of pleasure and reward. For more on dopamine please read my hub: https://hubpages.com/health/Importance-of-Dopamine-And-Methods-to-Improve-Dopamine-Naturally
Green tea also contains L-theanine an amino acid which helps reduce anxiety. Studies have shown that students who drank green tea regularly shown considerably lower levels of stress than students who did not. Other herbal teas such as peppermint tea, Chamomile tea, and Lavender tea are known to reduce anxiety, depression, stress, and insomnia and help improve the mood.
9. Probiotics Improve Gut Health
Probiotics improve gut health. There are more serotonin receptors in the gut than in the brain. It is estimated that 90% of the Serotonin is made in the gut. Probiotics do more than improve gut health, they indirectly improve our brain too by increasing the secretion of Serotonin. As you know Serotonin is the brain's happy chemical and to improve gut health you can eat probiotic foods such as yogurt, pickles sauerkraut and kefir. Studies have proved that probiotics help boost mood and cognitive functions and lower stress and anxiety. Probiotics have become increasingly popular nowadays.
10. Antioxidants are Important
Antioxidants protect our cells against free radicals which are formed when our body breaks down food and when we are exposed to tobacco smoke or radiation. These free radicals are harmful and can cause cancer, heart disease and affect brainpower. They can be found in different foods such as beans, fruits such as apple prunes, sweet cherries, and plums, berries such as blackberries strawberries cranberries raspberries and blueberries, nuts such as walnuts and pecans vegetables like artichokes kale spinach beets and broccoli and spices with both antioxidant and anti-anxiety properties include turmeric and ginger. Vitamin K and Vitamin C supplements function as antioxidants as do for beta carotene. Eat apricots broccoli cantaloupe carrots collards peaches pumpkin spinach and sweet potato for vitamin C.
11. Mediterranean Diet to Overcome Depression
Mediterranean diet consists primarily of plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, seeds, and fish. In this diet, olive oil and canola are used instead of butter, herbs and spices are used to flavor the food. Research has shown that a Mediterranean diet can help reduce the risk of depression. This diet reduces inflammation and helps in overall health including mental health. It is also known to reduce the mortality rate by improving cardiovascular health. It got the name when it was observed that the people living in Greece, Crete, Italy had the highest life expectancy and lowest chronic diseases though they had limited medical services. It was attributed to their diet which consisted mainly of the region’s traditional fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seafood, olive oil, and dairy. A Mediterranean diet is known to reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and dementia and prevent heart disease and stroke. It keeps one agile and increases longevity and has gained popularity in recent years.
Diet plays an important role in maintaining not only our physical health but also our mental health. Studies have shown that cutting down on processed food intake, refined carbohydrates, and sugar, and increasing fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts resulted in improvement in depression symptoms. Vitamin supplements and probiotics also have a positive impact on improving the mood and overall mental health of people. Research has proved that people who followed the Mediterranean diet consisting of more fruits, vegetables, olive oil, lean meat, and nuts, have a lower risk of developing depressive symptoms later. No doubt eating healthier is no magic remedy to fight mental disorders but it is a strategy worth considering as the benefits are huge and the cost is less compared to medicines or counselling.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 VIDYA D SAGAR