The popular proverb - “a healthy mind dwells in a healthy body” has more than a semblance of truth in it. Medical experts have time and again, corroborated the correlation between a healthy diet and lifestyle. New research has found that a nutritionally balanced diet (such as the Mediterranean diet) is likely to improve depressive symptoms in individuals.
From a young age, the importance of a nutritionally balanced diet is ingrained into us. Yet, more often than not, our diet’s effect on our mental health is not given equal emphasis. Even in adulthood, you are likely not acquainted with the associations between the food that you eat and its effect on your mental health. Thus, learning to gather food for mental health improvement is paramount.
An inadequate diet can cause mental fatigue, impaired decision-making, stress, and depression. Consistent epidemiological evidence suggests that bad diet quality and detrimental food trends taken up by scores of the population are to be blamed for the inadequacies in our collective diet.
Fast food addiction and mental health
Americans are known to be the biggest consumers of fast food in the world. Many reasons are behind this, but mainly because fast food is cheaper and easier to access. Obtaining fresh farm-sourced produce to prepare everyday meals is only doable for a fraction of people. All this and more, has made fast food a culturally acceptable part of American society. As a result, almost 10 percent of all American adults are in a diabetic or pre-diabetic stage according to CDC. David Katz (Founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center) says, “Higher intake of fast food may very well increase risks of depression by causing poor health in general”. Mental illnesses among the American population have seen a spike with a rise in obesity. This can be at least partly reasoned by people’s shared addiction to processed and fast food.
Effect of sugary food on anxiety
We usually consume sugary foods such as chocolates when low or upset. The fact however is that diets with higher levels of added sugars and saturated fats may cause higher levels of anxiety. Sugar intake may provide temporary relief from stress but it increases dependency in the long run and raises the risk of obesity. Experts hint that withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, irritability, and fatigue show up during abstinence from sugary foods. This is similar to the symptoms associated with drug use.
Some of the best food that helps with anxiety include:
Salmon contains brain-healthy Vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids.
Chamomile has anti-inflammatory properties to relieve inflammation associated with anxiety.
Curcumin in Turmeric prevents damage to brain cells related to oxidative stress experienced during anxiety.
Dark Chocolate contains flavonols that act as antioxidants and have neuroprotective abilities.
The connection between the gut and mental health
The connection between the gut and the brain is an intricate one. Gastrointestinal discomfort can be as much a cause as it is a product of mental distress. There is a communication network aided by millions of neurons that run from your gut to your brain, known as the gut-brain axis. The intestines contain within it certain bacteria that are healthy for the body. When we consume healthy food, the bacteria break it down into chemicals that are good for gut health. But due to a bad diet, the chemicals formed in the intestine cause inflammation. This may create chemical imbalances in the brain escalating mental health issues. Thus, solidifying the correlation between a nutritionally balanced diet and good mental (and gut) health.
Brain healthy foods
Here is a list of food that helps with anxiety, depression, or mood improvement:
Fatty fish and seafood
Omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA, boost long-term and short-term memory. They are also good for mental wellness and reduce symptoms of anxiety. Salmon and trout, and other kinds of seafood such as prawns or lobsters are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
It is common knowledge that carbs tend to help in mood alleviation due to the release of the ‘happy hormone’ i.e. serotonin. Thus, a healthy carb-rich dish is an ideal food that helps with anxiety. Compared to processed carbohydrates, whole grains are a far more nutritious option. These include brown rice, barley, millets, oatmeal, etc.
Not only are nuts great for heart health, but they also contribute to a sharper memory. Walnuts are also known to have omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Pumpkin seeds too, are good sources of copper, magnesium, iron, and zinc. All of which promote improved mental functioning and health.
Berries such as strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants assist in combating inflammation and repairing cells. They also provide the additional benefit of relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Eggs are rich in several nutrients that are good for brain health, like choline, folate, and vitamins B6 and B12. They are also rich sources of protein. Deficiencies in B-type vitamins are linked to increased chances of depression.
Beans and legumes are rich in fiber, protein, and antioxidants. They are also digested at a slower pace, giving a steady supply of glucose to the brain which keeps it resilient.
Benefits of Healthy Eating for Mental Health
Healthy eating is more than only developing good eating habits. A big part of it is being able to develop a penchant for nutritional knowledge.
Avoid excess fast and processed food
Addiction to fast and processed food may cause physiological disorders such as obesity, diabetes, and heart problems. And, also mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Avoiding or at the very least, minimizing one’s dependency on fast food has been known to improve one’s pre-existing mental health conditions. Gaining good knowledge of food that helps with anxiety and depression too helps one overcome fast food addiction.
Try out the Mediterranean diet
Mediterranean countries such as Cyprus, Spain, France, Greece, and Italy are renowned for a diet that is one of the healthiest. This category of diet encourages increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, seafood, and heart-healthy fats as dishes are cooked in virgin olive oil. Poultry and dairy are consumed in moderation. While meat, sugary food and drinks, and processed foods are had on rare occasions.
Research has shown that people who have switched to Mediterranean diets may have decreased risks of heart disorders. Also, balanced blood sugar levels, and reduced prevalence of depressive symptoms. Thus proving itself to be an accurate model of a nutritionally balanced diet. As it is inclusive of food that helps with anxiety and depression, and other physiological stresses.
A wide range of Mediterranean dishes can be prepared through our unique automated cooking experience. You may be interested in checking it out if you would like to consider switching to this diet.
Read More: Is it time to automate cooking at home?
Pick natural foods over processed
Natural food that has undergone none to minimal processing is far healthier than processed foods. This is partly because natural food that helps with anxiety has higher contents of vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. Processed foods may be calorie dense but at the same time, deficient in essential nutrients. They may adversely affect overall health, causing reduced life expectancy.
People tend to separate hydration from meals. Let us tell you that proper hydration is a big part of your daily meals. Instead of relying on sugary soft drinks, shakes, and juices, drink more water throughout the day. Many processed drinks cause dehydration as opposed to hydration. Continuous dehydration can cause low mood, anxiety, and confusion.
Avoid skipping meals
Contrary to popular belief, skipping meals does not aid in weight loss. When you skip a meal, your blood sugar sees drops and results in low energy and fatigue, which affects your mental well-being. Many rely on food deliveries or take-outs to get their required number of meals for the day as they can not cook. Or, do not have the time to cook at home. Or, even stressed out by cooking's complicated processes. Nutrition experts would echo that mass-produced processed food is in fact, detrimental to your mental and physical health. Nymble, as an alternative, can help you simplify all your meal-planning woes to a great extent. With Nymble, you can firstly, automate the entire cooking process. And secondly, ensure that you have meals as per your favored nutritional goals.
Go easy on the caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant that does provide benefits such as energy and the ability to focus, but these are still temporary. Unregulated intake of caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, which is the chemical responsible for prompting us to sleep. Thus, too much coffee can cause insomnia, and related anxiety and irritability.
Eat with your close ones
Food is fuel for our bodies, but it is also much more than that. Food holds the special ability to bring people together. Think back to the moments of infectious laughter amongst your loved ones at any dinner (or breakfast, or lunch) table. Remember Sunday family picnics? Recess lunches? or dinner at your Grandparents'? Good times, weren't they? Such exchanges have the power to elevate the mood of anyone present. Today, it's common to have our meals in isolation while simultaneously completing other pending activities or simply being glued to our devices, as we eat. While this habit is not a definitive cause of unstable mental health. But it may indicate that detaching ourselves from social eating experiences may stunt our social maturity.
Read More: How Eating Together made us Human
As you would presume, along with a nutritionally balanced diet, exercise too has shown to alleviate mood as per various studies. As for our mental health, it is advisable to stick to a healthy diet that is easy to follow. Do not obsess over having a perfectly consistent diet. Scrutinizing everything you eat may ultimately be counterproductive for your mental well-being. And lastly, let Hippocrates’ famous words - “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”, become your driving mantra as you choose to eat better for your mental health.