What You Eat and How It Affects Mental Health

I know we have all heard “an apple a day, keeps the doctor away” and how that relates to a person’s health. Food provides nutrients the body needs daily to stay well, but food also plays a critical role in mental health. What you put into your body can affect how your brain functions the same way as it does your muscles. Different types of food interact with your brain differently. Think of your body as an expensive car. You don’t want to put low-quality fuel because it will cause damage. The next time you reach for a snack, think about how it will affect not only your body but your mental health as well.

How Foods Fuel Your Brain
The fuel you choose to fill your body with directly affects the function of the brain and mood. When food interacts with the chemicals in your brain, it provides you with the energy you need to keep you going throughout the day. Without getting too scientific, the main aspects of food that play an important role in our moods are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. For example, carbohydrates increase serotonin, which characteristically has a calming effect. Protein-rich foods can help increase our alertness. Foods high in healthy fats can help reduce symptoms of depression.

Some foods just pack on pounds and bring no nutrition to the table. Others can deflate your mood or wreck your sleep. Being mindful of what foods you eat is a step in the right direction for a healthy life. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals have been shown to reduce stress, improve moods, increase oxygen flow to the brain, and boost cognitive thinking and reasoning abilities.

What Should I Eat?
No one knows exactly which foods promote the greatest of mental health, but here are some simple suggestions can help boost your mood, energy, and overall wellness. Make small changes to your diet, such as eating out less and cooking more at home. This can help get some of those important nutrients back into your diet. Restaurants and fast-food chains do not always have the best options when it comes to healthy food. They are known to add extra sugar, salt, and fats to their food to increase flavor and taste, but this can have a negative effect on your brain function and mental health.

A healthy diet includes little to no processed ingredients. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins are main staples to healthy living. Adding foods such as avocados, blueberries, fish, almonds, and dark chocolate to your daily meals can help boost your mood and increase alertness. Start by making a list of healthy foods to buy and incorporate a few of those into your day.

You don’t have to give up all the tasty foods and guilty pleasures! Keep in mind that some of those foods, in large amounts, can affect your mental health. Try eating these foods in moderation and see how your brain and mood have changed.

Small Changes, Better Mood
Now that you are aware of better mood foods, start with some small changes to everyday meals to improve your mental health. Try paying more attention to how different foods make you feel. Cut out processed and foods high in sugar and replace them with healthy alternatives. Make notes in a food log about what you eat and how you feel afterward. Everyone is different, so some foods may not work as well for some people as they do for others. Once some healthy changes are made over time, check your notes, and see if there is an improvement. If you feel more alert, are in a better mood and have more energy, you are doing something right!

I know that completely taking some of the “unhealthier” foods away can be hard because life happens. Days become busy; time seems to always be short, so don’t stress when convenience wins. Just be mindful and try to incorporate some of the healthy habits into daily life. Try to find a better balance.

Final Thoughts
Incorporating some healthier choices into your daily diet can boost your mood and benefit overall health and wellness. Look at what you currently eat and ask yourself, is it helping or hurting you? Sometimes, just a few small changes, such as switching processed food to fruits or vegetables, can improve one’s mental health. Utilize a food log and write down everything you are eating during the day. Look at how those foods are making you feel.

Remember that while a healthful diet may aid treatment for poor mental health, anyone experiencing the symptoms of a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, should speak to a doctor.

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