How diet affects mental health
With psychiatric disorders affecting millions of people around the globe, researchers continue to explore the link between diet and mental health. As evidence continues to grow, what we eat could have more impact on our mood than we think.
It makes sense that what we put into our mouths affects all parts of our bodies. As nutrients are broken down in the stomach and gut, our bloodstream delivers key vitamins and minerals to our brains. If our food is poor in nutrients–or contains ingredients that may harm the brain–then impaired function is a natural result.
How, though, do specific foods and our diet affect mental health? Are there foods that boost mental health or reduce anxiety and depression? We’ll take a look at what the current research suggests, what we still don’t know, and how to eat to support mental health.
Changing Global Diet And Mental Health
The way we live and eat has changed rapidly in the last 100 years. Because populations have moved away from traditional foods and lifestyles, many suffer physically and mentally. Laborious physical activity, plenty of time outdoors, and a sense of community have been replaced by a lightning-fast economy, industrialization, and hours spent behind a screen–often alone. This includes eating highly processed food that’s cheap but lacks nutrition. (1)
It’s no wonder, then, that mental health issues are becoming more common. The brain depends on certain nutrients to function optimally, including fats, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. If foods with the right nutrients aren’t eaten, it becomes even more difficult for the brain to work correctly.
Fruits, Veggies, And Mood
Researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how and why diet affects mental health. There are, however, a few basic ways to add foods that reduce anxiety and depression to your diet. Most of us know that healthy eating starts with fruits and vegetables–and this may extend to our brain, too.
Studies show that a diet including more fruits and vegetables corresponds to higher levels of mental wellbeing. The Mediterranean diet, for example, includes foods rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats like olive oil. Those who adhere to the Mediterranean diet were shown to have a reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms. (2)
Other studies show the importance of fruits and vegetables through diets that don’t include them. The typical Western diet, usually consisting of many processed foods, has been linked to an increased risk of developing mental health issues like anxiety or depression. It’s clear, then, that fresh foods in the diet are essential. (3)
Mental Health And The Microbiome
Evidence is mounting for the role of the gut microbiome in mental health. The brain and gut are linked through a variety of mechanisms, with good bacteria supporting the development of mood-regulating hormones like serotonin. The less nutritional the food we eat, the more unbalanced our guts can become. Bad bacteria can outnumber the good, causing many imbalances.
To balance the gut microbiome, lower inflammation, and help our brains function at their best, it’s vital to get the right nutrition. High-fiber and Mediterranean diets have been shown to promote a diverse microbiome. By feeding the body what it needs, the link between diet and mental health can be positive rather than negative. (1)
To find specific foods and dishes that help support overall health, download a free copy of Dr. Partha Nandi’s Super Foods cookbook here. It includes 60 recipes that harness the power of 18 superfoods that support mood by taking care of the body.