Are you struggling with your mental health or having difficulty concentrating? It’s well known that good nutrition is key to physical health. However, eating healthy can also significantly affect your mood and mental health.
Research has shown that eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can improve your mental health and help you manage stress.
Proper nutrition is essential for a healthy mind, so read on to learn more about how eating healthy can benefit your mental well-being!
How Your Food Affects Your Mood
There’s a strong connection between what you eat and how you feel. This is because your brain and your gastrointestinal tract have a close relationship – often referred to as the ‘second brain.’
Put simply, your GI tract is home to billions of bacteria that can influence the production of chemicals that constantly send messages from the gut to the brain. For example, dopamine and serotonin production is affected by your gut.
Consuming nutrient-rich foods encourages the development of “good” bacteria, which positively affects the production of these hormones. When production is optimal, your brain receives these positive signals, and your emotional state can reflect it. On the other hand, when production is disturbed, your mood could be adversely affected.
Sugar, in particular, is considered a significant cause of inflammation. It nourishes “bad” bacteria in the GI tract. Ironically, it can also cause a temporary surge in “feel good” hormones like dopamine. This may sound good, but you want to avoid the crash that comes after.
Eating nutrient-rich food can set you up for fewer mood swings and better focus. Research has even found that diets with whole, unprocessed foods can help with anxiety and depression. But unhealthy diets have been associated with a higher risk of dementia or stroke.
The Foods You Should Eat
Are you about to go to the grocery store but need help determining what foods will help your mood and mental health? Here are the foods you should look for!
Did you know that some preservatives, food colorings, and other additives may be linked to hyperactivity and depression? We recommend sticking to real food or food that’s minimally processed, like fresh fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors.
Colorful produce is packed with powerful nutrients, but its nutritional properties are often contained in the colors themselves. So eating more colorful foods helps us get more vitamins and nutrients, giving us amazing physical and psychological benefits.
Plant-based foods are brimming with fiber, which helps your body digest glucose (food sugars) more gradually. This helps you dodge sugar spikes and dips. Fiber-rich foods include fruits, vegetables, and nutrient-packed carbs like whole grains and beans.
Want to fight inflammation? Pack your diet with antioxidant-rich berries, leafy green veggies, turmeric, Omega-3-rich salmon, and black chia seeds. Plus, feel free to treat yourself to dark chocolate – just don’t go overboard!
This kind of B vitamin can help your body to create dopamine without the sudden surge that comes with sugar. Leafy greens, lentils, and cantaloupes are excellent sources of it.
Need a boost in serotonin production? Vitamin D can help! While sunlight is the best source, you can also get it from mushrooms. If you’re deficient, your doctor may suggest taking a supplement.
This essential mineral is vital for maintaining nerve and muscle function, keeping a steady heartbeat, and even keeping our moods in check. Conversely, a mineral deficiency can cause depression and anxiety-like symptoms, so it’s essential to load up on natural sources like cacao, almonds, cashews, dark leafy greens, bananas, and beans. Getting enough magnesium can make all the difference in feeling energized and positive!
Looking to give your gut health a boost? Try adding fermented foods to your diet! Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, and kombucha, are packed with beneficial probiotics. But remember that they can be high in sodium, so if you have high blood pressure, enjoy them in moderation or skip them altogether.
How Eating Healthy Affects Your Mood and Mental Health
A healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can support the microbiome’s health, promoting a healthy mood and mental well-being. On the other hand, a diet high in processed and sugary foods can disrupt the balance of the microbiome and contribute to inflammation, which has been linked to an increased risk of mood disorders and other mental health conditions.
In addition to supporting the microbiome’s health, a healthy diet can also provide essential nutrients for brain function. For example, omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, nuts, and seeds, have been shown to positively affect mood and cognitive function. In addition, b vitamins, such as folate and B12, are essential for synthesizing neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine, which play a role in mood regulation.
Eating a balanced diet can also help regulate blood sugar levels, which can impact mood. When blood sugar levels are unstable, it can lead to irritability, difficulty concentrating, and mood changes. Consuming a diet high in fiber can help slow sugar absorption into the bloodstream, helping maintain stable blood sugar levels.
In addition to the physical benefits of eating a healthy diet, there are also psychological benefits to be gained. Making healthy choices can improve your self-esteem and sense of control, which can contribute to a positive mood. Preparing meals at home, rather than relying on fast food or takeout, can also be a form of self-care and a way to relax and de-stress.
Of course, eating a healthy diet is just one piece of the puzzle regarding maintaining good mental health. Engaging in regular physical activity, getting enough sleep, and practicing stress management techniques, such as meditation or mindfulness, is also essential.
Eating a healthy diet can benefit your mood and mental health. By choosing whole, unprocessed foods, eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, and limiting your intake of added sugars and unhealthy fats, you can support the health of your body and mind.
Ready to Give it a Try?
Want to elevate your mood with food? Preparing a week’s worth of chopped veggies and soaked and cooked beans ahead of time can make cooking at home a breeze. Or try using frozen fruit and vegetables and 10-minute brown rice, quinoa, or whole-grain couscous if you’re crunched for time.
Don’t forget to make small healthy food swaps, like trading white rice, pasta, and bread for whole-grain versions, to increase good fiber in your body and lift your mood. And instead of a bag of chips, why not try a side salad packed with nuts, seeds, and colorful vegetables for extra flavor and nutrition?
Of course, it’s essential to adhere to established dietary principles. Keep yourself hydrated, don’t miss meals, and be aware of caffeine and alcohol consumption.
You don’t have to rush into making all these changes at once. Taking it step-by-step can make it easier. Why not start by replacing processed sugar with fresh fruit one week, then add in more vegetables and lean protein the next? It’s all up to you – there’s no one-size-fits-all regarding your health!
Being mindful and in the moment while we eat is an effective technique to tackle cravings or overeating. Take note of the aroma, flavor, and texture of the food. Furthermore, observe how nutritious snacks and meals make you feel afterward. Some individuals who transition to a primarily plant-based diet, for instance, may notice that their energy and concentration can last throughout the day.
It may take several days or even weeks for you to start feeling the mood-enhancing results of a healthier diet. It all depends on the number of changes you make. Lasting change doesn’t occur overnight, but the healthy decisions you make every day add up. Before you know it, you’ll see the positive effects on your mind and body.
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