Can Your Diet Affect Your Mental Health?

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We all know that the right diet is important for our physical well being. But what about our mental well being? This post takes a look into whether foods and drinks are likely to affect our mood (and if so which foods and drinks).

Your diet can affect your mental health in many ways. For instance, refined sugars and carbohydrates cause the body to have a fast insulin spike and drop which can trigger anxiety symptoms. A diet high in low glycemic foods can help negate this and keep your blood sugar more stable.

You will find that keeping blood sugar stable through the right foods is a big part of combating anxiety and depression, along with regular exercise and obtaining adequate sunlight to boost serotonin levels. 

How Does Diet Affect Mental Health?

Mental health is largely affected by our hormone levels. Hormones like endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine are all necessary for experiencing positive feelings. The production of these hormones is stimulated by various different things including exercise, high self esteem, laughter, listening to music, sunlight exposure and spending time with people we love (just to name a few). You cannot treat depression or anxiety by adjusting your diet alone, and often need to explore a range of factors. That said, diet can play a part.

Most foods and drinks increase our levels of ‘happy’ hormones. However, in some cases, the effects are short-lived, and hormones that promote negative feelings (such as the stress hormone, cortisol) can start being produced instead. It’s important to eat foods that promote production of positive feeling hormones without promoting negative feeling hormones shortly after. 

Which foods and drinks are good for our mental health?

There are many foods and drinks that are great for triggering the right hormones, while limiting unwanted hormones. These tend to be foods that are high in flavour and nutrients.

A diet high in plant based foods will play a part in keeping inflammation down in the brain, which tends to play a part in depression and anxiety. Plant foods are high in antioxidants and other plant compounds that help keep general chronic inflammation to a minimum, especially if you are eating a whole foods plant based diet specifically.

A general vegan diet will not have this effect if you’re eating lots of vegan junk foods such as processed meat, cheese and dairy alternatives, oils and refined sugars.

A few plant based foods that can boost our serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin levels to make us feel happier include:

  • Bananas
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Watermelon
  • Avocado
  • Orange juice
  • Dark chocolate
  • Mangos
  • Seaweeds
  • Green superfood powders

Some foods have naturally relaxing qualities, and can help to reduce cortisol levels in our body, while also promoting sleep hormones for a healthy night’s sleep. The include:

  • Cherries
  • Herbal teas
  • Figs
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Lettuce
  • Walnuts

Which foods and drinks are bad for our mental health?

While all foods and drinks that taste good can provide a rush of endorphins, many can also increase stress levels or lead to depletion of happy hormones once the ‘high’ has worn off. 

Sugary foods flood us with endorphins before triggering inflammation around our body – leading to an increase in stress hormones. A diet high in salt can have a similar impact – salty foods may initially trigger endorphins, but can lead to an increase in cortisol and testosterone soon after that can make us more prone to aggression.

Then of course there’s alcohol, which can provide a huge boost of dopamine. Our dopamine levels then hit rock bottom when we have a hangover – which is why we feel so down and unmotivated the morning after drinking.

Overall, these are the foods and drinks you should limit if you want to improve your mental health.

  • Candy
  • Cakes
  • Milk and white chocolate
  • Processed meats
  • Processed breakfast cereals
  • White bread
  • Potato chips
  • Pizza
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Energy drinks

Other Ways To Reduce Depression And Anxiety

Exercise

Daily exercise of some kind is a great way to boost your body’s feel good endorphins. Go for a mix of light weight lifting, power walking, cycling, climbing, HITT training, yoga, Pilates or whatever else floats your boat. Do something you enjoy. Research shows that we are far more likely to stick to exercises that we enjoy. Get out and do your exercise outdoors as much as possible to get as much natural light as possible into your retinas.

Sunlight

Getting sunlight in our eyes boosts serotonin to make you feel happier. It also regulates sleep cycles, which is another important aspect of mental health. Bike riding, walking, power walking, hill climbing, sea swimming, and anything you can do outdoors is a great way to do this.

DHA

DHA is an important omega 3 fatty acid for the brain that’s only found in oily fish and seaweeds. If you’re not eating enough oily fish, or if you’re on a vegan or plant based diet, then it’s vital that you take some kind of DHA supplementation because this can make a big difference to your mood.

Probiotics

Probiotics can help keep your gut flora in balance, which ultimately can help with mood. The gut is known as the ‘second brain’ and is known to have an influence on the mind and mood. Healthy bacteria in the gut from a healthy diet and probiotics will help lead to a healthy mind along with a fruit and vegetable rich diet, sunlight, a good sleep pattern and exercise.

Is it time to adjust my diet?

All in all, your diet can affect your mental health. If you are prone to depression or anxiety, it could be important to consider what you are eating and drinking. Limiting salt, sugar and alcohol, while upping all the right healthy foods, exercise and sunlight could have a noticeable positive effect on your mood.

It’s important to cover all pillars of health and diet, exercise, DHA, sleep and sunlight if you really want to help your mental health. Just doing one or two of these things may not be enough. Get yourself into a routine that becomes a habit. Forming a lifelong habit for these healthful activities will not only greatly help your mental well-being, but also your physical well-being. This will stand you in good stead of lowering your chances of many chronic diseases and allow you to live  healthy and happy life. 

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