Good nutrition not only affects our physical well being, but our mental health as well. Have you ever felt inspired or overly optimistic after consuming a healthy meal? Or have you felt sluggish and tired after indulging in junk food? Several new studies confirm these are not coincidental experiences. Maintaining a whole food based diet to ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs from fruits, vegetables and whole grains is crucial to your health in more ways than one.
Below I explain how nutrition impacts mental health in three ways.
1. Brain Power
The brain needs nutrients to function every day, hence the phrase “brain food.” Healthcare professionals propose a strong connection between nutrition and mental health. They say that depression, anxiety, mood disorder, insomnia, addictions and other factors can be tied to nutritional health and ultimately improved with a proper diet. Nutrition affects all parts of us, even the brain because “good nutrition affects memory, focus, concentration, and our mood. Our brain health/emotional health affects every decision we make… when our brains are nourished, we function at a high level.
2. Mood Booster
At some point in time, we have all been guilty of emotional eating or “eating our feelings,” but is there a reason why we eat certain food based on our mood? A recent study by Meryl Gardener, a marketing professor at the University of Delaware, connects the dots between having negative emotions and eating unhealthy foods (as well as having positive moods and eating healthy foods). Her studies look at food choice and mood, while also considering the consumer’s perception of time in the equation, revealing that eating healthy can positively affect your mood. Dr. Leigh Gibson, a psychology professor at the University of Roehamp, also found connections between mental health and nutritional health in his studies. Dr. Gibson’s research revealed that people who are future-focused and think essentially positive make healthier choices. For example, if someone has a positive goal of eating healthier, then that upbeat emotion will influence eating behavior. Dr. Gibson explains, “Achieving goals is part and parcel of emotional experience. If you get yourself excited about doing something that improves your health, then your actions will reflect your mindset, and you will ultimately achieve your goal."
3. Overall Mental Wellness
Overall, research exploring the link between diet and mental health is a new frontier of study. However, researchers are now extending studies to learn more about how nutrition affects one’s psychological wellbeing beyond solely mood. For instance, Michael Berk, a professor of psychiatry at the Deakin University School of Medicine in Australia, conducted a study that found “lower rates of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder among those who consumed a traditional diet of meat and vegetables than among people who followed a modern Western diet heavy with processed and fast foods or even a health-food diet of tofu and salads.” Although there have been few studies correlating healthy eating to alleviating mental illnesses, there have been several case studies suggesting the connection, which has fueled further development of the field of study.
It is important to keep new research developments in the back of our minds when dictating our diets. Having a whole food based diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables is the best thing we can do to ensure good health, both physically and mentally. It helps to know that through nutrition, our bodies can heal and improve in ways that we did not know were possible."
What are your good mood foods? Do you find yourself feeling more uplifted after eating a variety of fruits and vegetables?