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The Role Nutrition Plays in Mental Health

Sliced tomato with a knife on chopping board

We’ve all heard the saying “you are what you eat,” meaning if you eat healthily, you’re more likely to be healthier. Thanks to continued research into better understanding how diet impacts overall health, we now know that nutrition can be used as not only a preventative strategy, but as an effective treatment method as well. Through the study of nutritional psychiatry, we’ve uncovered the many connections between nutrition and mental health.

The Role of Nutrition and Mental Health

The prevalence of mental disorders continues to grow, which has spurred a renowned interest in better understanding of the causes as well as potential prevention strategies. While most research focuses on clinical therapies and prescription medications, we’ve learned that nutrition is a path worth exploring.

The calories we consume from food are what fuels our bodies. Just as you need an appropriate amount and the right kind of calories in order to get in a good workout, the same can be said for healthy brain function. What we eat can either benefit our brain or inhibit its functions.

While no one has a perfect diet, the fact is that eating the right foods on a consistent basis will give you long-lasting energy that optimizes brain function. On the other hand, low-quality foods can cause you to feel moody and even lethargic.

Though there’s no evidence that diet directly affects one’s likelihood of suffering from mental illness, without a doubt, food affects our brain function and mental health.

How Diet Can Treat and Prevent Illness

Eating a poor diet often leads to poor health. This is because a lack of healthy foods, aka nutrient-dense foods, often leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. In fact, most people who experience mental health problems are found to have many micronutrient deficiencies, including B vitamins, vitamin D, and magnesium.

Aside from supplementation, the only way to prevent these deficiencies is to eat a diet that consists of whole, healthy foods. Eating meals that offer a high nutritional value improves brain health and function by reducing inflammation, by relieving anxiety and depressive symptoms, and by boosting memory and concentration.

Which Nutrients Help Your Brain?

A diet that promotes brain health and mental well-being should mainly consist of fruits and vegetables, along with lean protein, whole grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy products. As you’d imagine, all of these food items offer a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients that keep you healthy and happy.

Some of the most important nutrients that protect and nourish the brain include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to be effective in boosting cognitive abilities as well as mood.
  • Magnesium is a mineral that has some scientific-backing due to its ability to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Vitamin D may fight depression by reducing inflammation and regulating mood. Many people diagnosed with depression are often low or deficient in vitamin D.
  • B vitamins such as B12, B6, and folate are most important when talking about brain health. They regulate mood while also playing a role in neurological function, including the regulation and production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA.
  • Probiotics increase the amount of healthy bacteria in the digestive system, which improves gut-brain connection.

By consuming these vitamins and nutrients on a routine basis, along with a brain-healthy diet, you will notice a change in your mood and cognitive abilities.

Beneficial Foods for Mental Health

When we’re feeling down and out, most people reach for unhealthy foods and snacks. Chips, cookies, and all sorts of other junk foods are the go-to choices. Emotional eating is real, but we tend to consume foods that make us feel even worse. The kicker is that these foods not only impact mental health but physical well-being as well.

Eating to elevate your mood and brain function means consuming a diet of complex carbohydrates, along with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats such as olive oil can have a profound impact on mood and overall health. This is a widely studied benefit of the Mediterranean-style diet.

Healthy salad with spinach, quail eggs, roasted vegetables and cherry tomatoes

Some of the best brain-boosting foods include:

  • Blueberries
  • Avocados
  • Leafy greens like collards, kale, and brussel sprouts
  • Dark chocolate
  • Beans and lentils
  • Raw nuts like walnuts and almonds and seeds like flax and chia

On the other hand, avoid foods that are high in refined sugars, simple carbohydrates, and saturated fat. It’s also best to minimize the consumption of red meat. All of these foods can worsen mental health symptoms while also potentially causing a decline in your overall health.

Reasons to Join a Nutrition Program

Eating a healthy diet is a lifestyle change that requires a lot of patience, planning, and willingness to learn. Breaking bad habits is never easy, and figuring out a healthy meal plan can quickly become overwhelming. Joining a nutrition program can provide the guidance you need in order to get your diet on track, so that your brain and mental health can follow suit.

At Dedicato Treatment Center, we believe that food is medicine! Our nutrition program is built around the idea that food not only impacts how we feel, but can be used to better our mental and physical health. All meals are prepared to bring joy, comfort, and strength.

Want to learn more? Contact our team to get started on your journey to a healthier, happier you.