In this blog, we’re going to discuss six ways diet affects our mental health. We will first see what research has to say about diet and mental health. Then, we will describe these six effects in more detail.
What are some Effects of Diet on Mental Health?
In this blog, we’re going to discuss the following effects of diet on mental health in more detail:
- Getting Hangry
- Too Much Sugar
- Vitamin & Mineral Deficiencies
- Body Image Issues
- Superfoods and Mental Health
Is there a Link Between Diet and Mental Health?
Several research studies have found evidence of a significant, cross-sectional relationship between unhealthy dietary patterns and poorer mental health. Experts have also established a consistent trend for the relationship between a good-quality diet and better mental health.
More specific studies discovered that certain bioactive molecules exerting antioxidant activities and acting as anti-inflammatory agents, such as omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols, are considered beneficial for the central nervous system.
Moreover, in a 1993 paper, researchers found that a healthy diet and mental health can form a virtuous cycle. The authors wrote that an increased intake of vitamins and minerals may be associated with better mental health. In addition, individuals with higher self-esteem may be more likely to consume fruit and vegetables.
6 Effects of Diet on Mental Health
Now that we know there’s a link between these two factors, we will explore six ways how diet impacts our mental health and what to do about it.
The term, ‘hangry’, is often used in popular culture to describe a state where hunger causes one to be irritable, angry, or aggressive. This is quite a common phenomenon and has a scientific basis to it.
Evolutionarily speaking, the competition theory suggests that aggression should be greater when resource availability is lower, as a stable strategy to access food. In 2018, Fattorini et al. tested this hypothesis and found that areas with enough access to food had individuals with low aggression and lower stress response.
This finding suggests that our bodies are indeed made to become agitated when there is a shortage of food. So, the first thing you should do to maintain good mental health is to eat enough and on time.
Too Much Sugar
An excess intake of sugar causes hyperactivity, leading to difficulty sleeping and restlessness. If consumed in such a way regularly, it is hard for one to achieve well-being. Additionally, certain mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders cause individuals to consume more sugar than they’d like.
Since it tastes so good and activates the pleasure centres of the brain, sugar is often used as a coping mechanism to deal with unpleasant emotions. Unfortunately, too much sugar is not good for our physical health.
Not only can it lead to lifestyle disorders like diabetes, but it can also cause one to gain weight and become unfit. This further leads to low self-esteem, and a vicious cycle of poor mental health is created.
A recent literature review suggests that the intake of specific micro-and macronutrients play a positive role in the preservation of normal brain function and mental well-being. Nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and omega 3 fatty acids improve quality of life through the control of neuroinflammation.
These nutrients also help with stress, sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, mild cognitive impairment, and neuropsychiatric disorders. Therefore, if you are deficient in these important nutrients, the likelihood of developing mental illnesses increases.
It is a less known fact that the microbes that exist in the gut can be harnessed for mental health. Accumulating data suggest that altered communication between gut microbiota and host systems could participate in disorders such as autism, anxiety, and major depressive disorders.
You can improve your gut health by consuming probiotics, which are healthy bacteria that promote health. These can be accessed through probiotic supplements or beverages like kombucha and kava.
The kind of diet you maintain can affect your mental health by causing body-image issues. This happens when you are overly focused on comparing your size, shape, or appearance to unrealistic ideals.
Eating too much, too little, or unhealthily tends to make you conscious about what you look like. Once you develop a negative body image, it can even lead to eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and food addictions.
Superfoods and Mental Health
The term “superfood” is used for nutritionally dense food items. A few examples include spirulina, blue-green algae, garlic, wheatgrass, beets and beet juice, Turmeric, Brazil nuts, and barley.
A lot of these items can also be called adaptogens, which are natural substances considered to help the body adapt to stress. These tend to come from plants living in adverse environments. For example, ashwagandha, cordyceps, eleuthero, ginseng, Rhodiola Rosea, and more.
Eating more of these superfoods, adaptogens, and nootropics are believed to improve one’s mental health, lifestyle, and ability to deal with stressful situations.
In this blog, we discussed six ways diet affects our mental health. We first saw what research has to say about diet and mental health. Then, we described these six effects in more detail.
The effects of diet on mental health discussed here included the topics of Getting Hangry, Too Much Sugar, Vitamin & Mineral Deficiencies, Gut Health, Body Image Issues, and Superfoods.
FAQs (Diet and its Effect on Mental Health)
Why is healthy eating important?
Eating healthily has a significant impact on both your physical and mental health. Not only can eating nutritious food prevent lifestyle diseases like diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, it can also prevent various mental illnesses.
To top that, eating the right amount at fixed times of the day can improve your circadian rhythm, metabolism, and general well-being.
How can I make a healthy diet?
A healthy diet includes balanced meals with the right portions for your nutritional goals. These goals are determined by the level of physical and mental health you wish to achieve.
It’s a good idea to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, proteins, and eating whole grain foods. At the same time, this also involves hydrating well and drinking enough water every day.
What are some healthy eating habits?
The following are some healthy eating habits that can improve your quality of life:
- Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables
- Don’t just count calories, eat what your body needs
- Never starve yourself
- Consume less sugar and sodium
- Eat at fixed times regularly
What are the top healthiest foods?
Here is a quick list of some of the top healthiest foods:
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Beans and lentils
- Fresh fruits
- Green leafy vegetables