How does your diet and nutrition affect mental health?
To enjoy a long and happy life, it’s essential to eat a well-balanced diet packed with the nutrients your body needs to remain as healthy as possible.
It’s not just our physical health that depends on a balanced diet, research has also shown that what we eat also impacts our mental health and wellbeing. Poor nutrition can cause low mood and negatively affect our mental health.
We explore the impact of diet and nutrition on mental health.
How does nutrition affect mental health?
Significant research indicates that there is a connection between diet and emotions. Eating a balanced diet that is rich in nutrients can help to improve your mood, increase your energy levels, and help you think clearer – boosting your overall mental health and wellbeing.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, appetite, pain, and mood. Most of the serotonin is found in our bodies is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, which is linked with millions of nerve cells and helps to control our emotions.
The good bacteria found in the intestine has a significant impact on how these nerve cells, or neurons, function and how much serotonin is produced. These bacteria play a key role in our physical and mental health by:
- Protecting the lining of the intestines
- Providing a barrier against toxins and bad bacteria
- Reducing inflammation
- Supporting the absorption of nutrients
- Activating the neural pathways that travel between the gut and the brain
The foods we eat affect how well these good bacteria can perform, impacting our mood and mental health.
Let’s take a closer look…
If your brain doesn’t have enough energy, it can leave you feeling weak, tired, and unable to focus.
The energy our brain needs is from the glucose in our blood, which comes from carbohydrates. If your blood glucose levels rise and fall too quickly, this can also have a negative impact on your mood, even causing symptoms of anxiety.
To keep your brain active and blood glucose levels balanced, it’s important to include carbohydrates in your meals. Good sources of carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and low-fat dairy products.
Fibre helps the body to absorb the glucose that’s needed to fuel the brain, but it also helps you to avoid sugar rushes and the crashes associated with fluctuating glucose levels. If you’re looking to factor fibre into your diet, you should opt for plenty of beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Amino acids are essential for regulating your mood. Protein is a great source of amino acids, so make sure you include plenty of lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, cheese, soya, and legumes in your diet.
While fat is often perceived to be ‘bad’ in terms of nutrition, there are actually different kinds of fats, and not all of them are bad for us. Fatty acids are essential for effective brain function. These include omega-3 and omega-6, which are found in foods such as nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocados, dairy and eggs.
Vitamins and minerals
Deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals can have a negative impact on our mental health. So, eating a rich and balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables is essential.
Here are some of the ways vitamins and minerals can impact mental health:
Folate is a B vitamin that helps to optimise dopamine production. A lack of folate can result in a higher risk of depression. This is found in foods such as lentils, leafy greens, vegetables, seafood, grains, poultry and cantaloupes.
A lack of iron in your diet can leave you feeling tired and lethargic, which can impact your mental wellbeing. Red meat, poultry, fish, beans, and pulses can all help keep your iron levels up.
Low levels of selenium have been shown to increase the chances of feeling low and depressed. Brazil nuts, seeds, wholemeal bread, meat, and fish can all help boost your selenium intake.
Incorporating healthy, nutritious foods into your diet is a fantastic way to keep your mind and body healthy.
If you're interested in learning more about food and your mental health, why not check out these 10 foods that can help with depression.