“You are what you eat.” We’ve heard this old saying many times throughout our lives. But did you know that eating well isn’t just about your physical health? It’s about your mental health as well. It’s true! Eating healthy food is a must for good mental wellbeing. A diet of unhealthy foods doesn’t fill you up and causes mental fatigue. It also leads to deficiencies of many key nutrients that not only impact your physical health but your mental health and brain function as well.
Here are three ways that eating the right foods can help improve your mental wellbeing.
1. Nutrients can help boost your mood.
Countless studies have shown that the brain needs certain nutrients to function properly. If we become deficient in these key nutrients, we are more likely to end up depressed. Omega-3s (and good fats in general), the vitamin B complex (including folate and vitamin B12), and vitamin D3 are just a few of the nutrients the brain needs. Eggs, oily fish, milk, broccoli, and other healthy foods can keep our brain function at peak performance.
If you struggle with depression, it might be worth talking to a doctor and getting tested for some of these nutrient deficiencies.
Vitamin D, for instance, has been found in several studies to increase a mood-lifting neurotransmitter called serotonin. Eating enough foods rich in this vitamin and maintaining good cholesterol levels in the skin (which the sun irradiates and turns into vitamin D), has been shown to stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Folate is found in foods such as lentils and leafy green vegetables. Studies suggest that people with depression have lower levels of this vital nutrient, and this may impair the metabolism of serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline, all of which regulate our moods. More research is still needed to understand exactly how folate affects depression.
2. A good diet means better quality sleep.
Your diet can have a big impact on the quality of your sleep, which in turn can affect your mental health. A diet of refined foods is devoid of real nutritional value and does not sustain proper blood sugar levels or brain function, both of which can—and often does—interrupt your sleep cycle
If your diet is lacking in nutrients, you may find yourself getting hungry in the middle of the night. But a good diet of organic whole grains, proteins, and fats will keep you full for longer and help stave off midnight cravings.
Time and again, numerous studies have shown that sleep problems often precede anxiety, depression, and other mental illness. According to a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a survey of people with depression found that three-quarters of them experienced difficulty in initiating or maintaining sleep, including waking early in the morning. In other words, depression definitely impacts how we sleep at night. When we feel sad or depressed about something—or a multitude of things—it can be hard to relax and fall asleep.
We all know that probiotics are great for gut health, but the most important of these is lactic acid from fermented and cultured foods. And, as it turns out, your gut health is also connected to your brain health. In her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Natasha Campbell McBride, MD, examines how intestinal flora sends and receives messages to and from the brain, which is known as the gut-brain axis.
The next time you’re making choices about your diet, remember that nutritious foods affect more than just your physical health. A good diet can also boost your overall mood, mental health, and brain function.