When it comes to improving mental health and creating a more positive mindset, there are a number of effective methods. Getting eight hours of sleep, cutting back on alcohol and caffeine, practicing meditation, and even aromatherapy are all beneficial ways to improve mental health. With that said, a healthy diet is also a major factor in what can contribute to your health both mentally and physically.
An unhealthy diet can actually leave you predisposed to potentially living with more intense symptoms of a mental illness, whereas a healthy diet can improve both your body and brain. Below are some of many key ways that a healthy diet can contribute to better mental health:
1. Fewer Mood Swings
There is a connection between food and a person’s mood that is often untalked about. Your gastrointestinal tract is home to billions of bacteria that have a serious impact on the production of neurotransmitters, which carry messages from the gut to the brain. This can control responses of chemicals such as dopamine or serotonin.
Healthy food contributes to the growth of beneficial bacteria, whereas processed and junk food contribute to inflammations that can stop this production. When this production is stopped, the health bacteria cannot form in large amounts and this can impact your neurotransmitters. When this occurs, your emotions may reflect that inflammation blockage and you may be in a worse mood.
2. Less Oxidative Stress
For those unfamiliar, oxidative stress is a disturbance in the balance between antioxidant defenses and reactive oxygen species. Essentially, a diet too low in antioxidants may leave you with oxidative stress that takes a toll on your body over time. For a better chance at reducing this form of stress, eating foods that are high in antioxidants is a great strategy. Foods such as dark chocolate, blueberries, pecans, and more are high in antioxidants.
3. Healthier Serotonin Levels
As mentioned briefly above, a healthier diet allows for better serotonin production as well. Serotonin is the chemical known as the “happy chemical” and is a major chemical force in preventing depression. This chemical transmits messages between nerve cells, and the amount present determines the strength of signals.
A healthier diet results in more serotonin, which can act as a hormone stabilizer that impacts our feelings of well-being and happiness.
4. Higher Vitamin Levels
It is believed that certain vitamins can have a strong effect on your mental health. For example, research is being done into the relationship between vitamin D and mood regulation. Scientists are currently looking at whether people experiencing depression notice a significant improvement in symptoms after taking vitamin D supplements, though the research is still being done.
Regardless, higher vitamin levels in the acceptable range are healthy for the body, so a healthier diet will inevitably increase these levels and leave you feeling better as a whole.
5. Fewer Foods That Trick The Brain
Believe it or not, there are certain foods that can trick you brain into releasing chemicals that you are currently lacking. Foods such as caffeine and chocolate may boost energy for a short period of time but cause you to crash shortly afterwards and leave you feeling tired in the long run.
Copious amounts of these foods can wear down your energy over time, and it’s best to avoid consuming too many foods with these ingredients.
6. Fewer Foods That Reduce Conversion Of Nutrient Foods
Along a similar line of thought, foods that prevent the conversion of other foods into nutrients such as saturated fats like butter, can restrict nutrients in your brain. This can leave you feeling moody or exhausted and unwilling to perform daily activities. A healthier diet will consist of foods that are easily converted into nutrients for your brain.
7. Sharing Meals With Other People
Besides simply eating healthier foods, try to include eating with others as a part of your new diet regiment. The social interactions that come with meals are a great way to take your mind off of any stress or anxiety that may be affecting you in a given moment, and having the chance to catch up with friends or family is usually beneficial for mental health.
8. Increased Energy Levels
When you eat foods that are high in nutrients your body needs, your energy levels are naturally increased. Rather than crashing down after a sugar high or caffeine high, your body’s natural energy levels will carry steadily for hours, allowing you to feel both mentally and physically more in the moment. Taking advantage of this with a healthy diet is one of the most effective ways to increase your energy levels.
9. Reduced Risk Of Depression
Did you know that eating healthy reduces your risk of depression by 25-35%? Adding superfoods to your diet, leafy greens, antioxidants, or foods within popular diets such as the Mediterranean diet can all have an impact on this. Most of the reason food impacts the likelihood of depression is due to the neurotransmitter interaction discussed earlier.
In general, the foods you should focus on trying to increase are dark leafy greens, berries, healthy fats such as oily fish or avocado, nuts, and fermented foods. Try your best to avoid foods such as refined sugars, caffeine, trans fats, alcohol, and highly processed foods.
With all of this said, a healthy diet is only half the battle. Combine your new diet with plenty of rest, correct amounts of water for your height and weight, as well as more exercise to see even more benefits. Additionally, not all mental illnesses or mental health issues can be solved by using natural remedies.
Should you believe your mental health is beyond your current control, don’t hesitate to reach out to a licensed professional for assistance as soon as possible. Trained therapists or counselors can help you develop treatment plans for your mental health issues and help you to feel better quickly.