You are What You Eat: How Your Diet Affects Your Mental Health

The link between diet and health is not a new one, people have known that the old adage you are what you eat is essentially true. You are made up of the very same vitamins and nutrients that you take in. When you eat, the body uses what you eat in order to carry out vital actions such as building muscle, repairing itself, and regulating growth. Everyone knows that diet and exercise are the two main ways to maintain a healthy body. Doctors, scientists, and researchers are also discovering how much of an impact diet has on the mind. According to the National Library of Medicine, foods definitely affect emotions and mental well-being. Up until a few years ago, people never considered the fact that what they eat also affects the way that they feel. When you have a mental illness, it is important to be aware of foods that are good for you as well as those you should avoid.

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Foods that Improve Overall Mood

nutrition and mental health

Eating well can have huge benefits to your overall mental health.

Eating for health is not a new concept but did you know that you can eat to improve your mood as well. Foods high in these nutrients improve mood and help to treat mental illnesses such as depression.

  • Magnesium – this simple dietary mineral is essential for proper functioning. It helps your body manufacture ATP which is the key to energy. It helps the cardiovascular system function better and is said to help you recover from a depressive episode. Nuts, leafy green vegetables, and avocados are all high in magnesium. Magnesium is also available in supplement form.
  • B-12 – A long time ago doctors discovered the link between vitamin B-12 and energy. B-12 is key in the production and use of dopamine and noreadrenalin, chemicals that cause a person to feel happy, relaxed, and sometimes euphoria. More recently they found a link between B-12 deficiency and disorders like:
    • Chronic fatigue syndrome, an illness where your body does not produce enough energy to sustain itself normally.
    • Depression, a mood disorder characterized by loss of interest in pleasurable things as well as a despondent, hopeless feeling.
    • Bi-polar disorder, a mood disorder characterized by both a manic and a depressive phase.
      • B-12 is found in a vast variety of nuts, meats, and dairy products or it can be taken as a supplement.
  • Folic Acid – a B vitamin similar to B-12, folic acid also helps the production and release of dopamine. Folic acid is also found in leafy green vegetables and fruits and most daily vitamins.
  • Tryptophan – most people know this amino acid as what makes you sleepy after a big turkey dinner. Not only does it relax you it also helps your body produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter. Those with depression suffer from a lack of serotonin. Tryptophan is found in some dairy, turkey (of course), and soy products.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids – doctors understand the link between omega 3 and cholesterol. This link also affects the signals sent from the brain to the rest of the body. Once people start taking omega 3 they generally report an improvement in their moods. Omega 3 are found in salmon, flaxseed, mackerel, and walnuts.

These are just a few of the foods that can improve mental health. Just remember eating healthy is good for both mental and physical health.

What Foods to Avoid

Just as there are some foods you should include in your diet, there are some that you should avoid. These foods are:

  • Fried food – fried food is high in just about everything that is bad for you. Fat, oils, salt, and preservatives, all contribute to weight gain, obesity, and depression.
  • Foods high in fat – It is general knowledge that food that is high in fat is bad for you, but it also inhibits vital mood lifting functions such as the production of dopamine and adrenaline. Foods high in fat are also known to sap energy levels.
  • Processed foods – these foods are high in preservatives and sodium.

The key is having a balanced diet. Cutting one or two foods out is not going to help if the rest of your diet is unhealthy. People who are mentally ill also have issues with depletion of certain chemicals and neurotransmitters. Specific dietary changes can help restore these chemicals and bring the body back in balance.

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How to Eat to Improve Overall Mental Health

According to the Washington Post, the proper diet improves overall mental and physical health. Although the benefits of controlling the mental illness with diet depend on the illness there are a few general diet rules that improve overall mental health.

  • Eat 3 to 5 regular meals,
  • Eat when you are hungry only, avoid eating when you are bored or under stress,
  • Eat foods high in vitamins and minerals,
  • Avoid packaged or processed foods,
  • Drink lots of water,
  • Avoid alcohol which is a depressant, and
  • Listen to your body when it comes to which foods to eat.

These rules are pretty much standard for a healthy body and mind. Eating right and exercising regularly is the key to mental and physical health.

Maintaining a healthy weight and a balanced diet is good advice for anyone but more so for people with a mental illness. Many mental illnesses are caused by a deficiency in the body and although diet might not cure that deficiency, it can help to rebalance it. Remember eating a healthy well balanced diet in moderation is key to treating any illness.


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