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National Nutrition Month: The Role of Nutrition in Mental Health

National Nutrition Month: The Role of Nutrition in Mental Health

We all know about the connection between diet and physical health, but what about what you eat and how you feel? A healthy diet is a must for your emotional and mental well-being, supporting everything from how your brain functions to your ability to respond appropriately to everyday stressors. And while it’s certainly not the only factor that impacts how you feel, it’s hard to underestimate just how big the role of nutrition in mental health really is. 

For National Nutrition Month, we’re taking a look at the surprising connection between nutrition and mental health, including the direct ways that eating well helps improve your mood.

How Nutrition Affects the Brain

There’s a reason that the stomach is often referred to as the “second brain.”

Your gut and your brain are closely interlinked, especially when it comes to things like fueling key cognitive functions and balancing out regulatory neurotransmitters. When you eat a healthy, balanced diet, you help build up “good” bacteria in the gut. These bacteria go on to perform some pretty essential tasks — including producing the majority of your serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates your mood and emotions. 

Of course, there’s a flip side to this, too. If you eat a lot of sugar-rich or heavily-processed food you feed the so-called “bad” bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract. This may produce an immediate rush of feel-good dopamine, but in the long term, it leads to inflammation and disruption of optimal brain functioning. The result is a higher risk of depression, anxiety, mood swings, and stroke.

Mental Benefits of Eating Healthy

The better you eat, the better you feel. In fact, the role of nutrition in mental health is so strong that improving your diet can be just as crucial to supporting your overall mental wellness as things like exercise, therapy, and other common forms of treatment. 

Some of the direct mental health benefits of a nutritious diet include:

  • Reduced risk of depression – Eating well provides your brain with the vitamins and minerals it needs to function properly. This can lower your risk of mental health disorders like depression and help you manage depressive thoughts if and when they occur. 
  • Boosted mood – Foods rich in things like iron and folic acid can increase energy levels, improve focus, and keep you at your creative best, all of which support and stabilize your mood. 
  • Higher self-esteem – It feels good to eat healthily, and that can have a profound impact on your feelings of self-worth and the value you place on your body. 

Eating Habits and Your Mood

There’s no such thing as inherently good and bad food, but there are certain eating habits that can result in either positive or negative impacts on your mood. If you’re trying to improve your diet for improved mental health, these are the habits you may want to incorporate more of (and the ones you’ll want to limit). 

Eating Habits That Positively Impact Mood

  • Eating regular and balanced meals
  • Focusing on foods with mood-boosting nutrients such as B vitamins, magnesium, iron, folic acid, and omega-3 fatty acids
  • Staying hydrated
  • Limiting heavily-processed and artificial foods
  • Limiting salt and sugar intake
  • Switching from refined grains to whole grains
  • Eating more plant-based foods
  • Healthy meal planning

Eating Habits That Negatively Impact Mood

  • Skipping meals and/or severely restricting calories
  • Consuming high amounts of sugar, sodium, and refined carbohydrates
  • Overconsumption of caffeine and/or alcohol
  • Low intake of fruits and vegetables
  • Eating too fast
  • Eating on the run too often
  • Obsessing over what you eat

It is recommended that you consult with a nutritionist or general physician for further information or prior to making significant changes to your diet.

Having a mental health condition is not a sign of weakness or poor health habits. That being said, understanding the role of nutrition in mental health can go a long way toward helping you manage your mental and emotional well-being and tackle the normal stressors that most of us face in our daily routines. 

During National Nutrition Month and beyond, we encourage you to make beneficial dietary choices that support your mental health goals. And when lifestyle changes aren’t enough, please contact us to learn about our outpatient behavioral health services and other programs for handling whatever mental health challenges come your way.

March 27th, 2023