Is there a correlation between what you put in your body and your mental health? We examine the possible connection.
If you’ve ever thought about changing your diet, it’s likely your goals were related to improving the health of your body. Perhaps you wanted to lose weight, increase your energy level or lower your cholesterol to help prevent heart disease. These are all things diet can help with. But did you know the things you eat can also impact your mental health?
You’ve likely had those days when you didn’t eat well and didn’t feel well. Or when you’ve eaten healthier and felt better. It’s not a coincidence: Research shows that what you eat can affect the way you feel mentally by impacting your mood and how your brain functions.
How Food Affects Mental Health
When it comes to the mind, research confirms that food can affect your mood and brain function, like concentration and memory. Depending on what you eat, your diet can positively or negatively impact these areas of mental health.
To boost your mood and increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps your body regulate mood, you can eat plant proteins, like those from nuts and legumes, as well as fruits, vegetables and fish.
You can also protect your mental health by avoiding certain processed foods, such as sweetened cereals, fruit snacks, granola bars, chips, candy bars, sweetened sodas and white bread. Research shows that these foods, which are often high in refined starches, sugars, fat and carbohydrates, can cause an inflammatory response in the body that’s linked to depression. Likewise, high-fat diets can lead to negative emotional states and increased sensitivity to stress.
It’s important to be especially careful when you’re tempted to turn to unhealthy “comfort foods” when you’re feeling low. These foods release feel-good chemicals in the brain that provide a quick fix that can make you feel better in the moment, but they won’t help you in the long run. In fact, using unhealthy foods to cope with stress and negative emotions can create a cycle of emotional eating that can lead to greater health concerns.
Strategies for a Mood-boosting Diet
They say, you are what you eat. But it’s also true that you feel what you eat. These simple strategies can help you achieve a healthier state of mind.
- Eat regularly. Going too long between meals will just make you “hangry.” Keep your blood sugar stable with regular meals and snacks — healthy ones, of course!
- Get motivated. Identify motivating factors that can help you remember why you want to stick to a healthy diet.
- Take a closer look at your diet. Log what you eat and how you feel afterward so you can start to see patterns and pinpoint what changes you need to make.
- Get support. Ask your family and friends to help hold you accountable to your healthy eating goals.
- Seek treatment. If you notice problematic patterns leading to emotional eating, a therapist can help.
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