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Can Nutrition Affect Your Mental Health?

Can Nutrition Affect Your Mental Health?

Mental wellness is often overlooked or brushed aside. However, there are millions of Americans that struggle with mental health disorders and require a certain level of care.

Conversations surrounding mental health have become more popular over the last few years or so, but there is still so much we have left to understand.

It can be hard to come to terms with the fact that you may be dealing with a mental health issue. And though there are things you can do that can help stabilize your mood, depressive or compulsive thoughts, and help you focus, it can be hard to find the right fit for a holistic lifestyle. 

When it comes to holistic health, self-care is the first step in improving your mental health. This includes sleep, physical activity, socialization, and nutrition. If you start to focus on achieving health goals in these areas, you may begin to see a change in your mental state. 

Be open about your mental health struggles. Chances are that others are feeling the same way, and the more we express our difficulties, the more we can understand how to overcome them. If you’re not interested in an anti-depressant medication or mood stabilizer, keep reading on.

We will discuss how what you eat can take a major toll on your mental health and the steps you can take towards creating a more nutritious diet. But first, we should understand what encompasses the term "mental health."

What is mental health?

In 1948, the World Health Organization defined health as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." However, as the times have changed, our understanding of mental health has changed, too.

Formal clinical definitions have shifted toward a more holistic view as more and more research supports mental health as a direct impact on overall health.

A healthy mind can look like someone who is happy and excited about life. This person will frequently express feelings of positivity and enthusiasm about their day-to-day.

It includes the capacity to manage one's feelings and related behaviors, including the realistic assessment of one's limitations, development of autonomy, and ability to cope effectively with stress.

On the contrary, someone struggling to control their brain health and mental wellness may experience a more negative outlook that affects their overall cognition, emotion, and behavior. Two of the most common mental illnesses include depression and anxiety.

Depression and anxiety

Symptoms of depression include:

-feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness

-decreased energy and fatigue

-irritability

-feelings of guilt

-inconsistent weight loss/gain

-thoughts of death or suicide

-headaches, cramps, or gut health issues without a clear cause

 

Symptoms of anxiety include:

-feeling nervous and restless

-unable to control worry

-increased heart rate

-breathing rapidly

-trouble sleeping

-having a sense of impending doom

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you may want to think about your food intake. It may sound strange, but the nutritional value of foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals can really change the way you think and feel.

Your brain is a powerful organ, and your food choices help fuel it. When you get on a diet full of vegetables and other foods that make you feel good, research has shown that your mental health will improve.

Let's dive a little further into why nutrition directly links to our brains and can improve our mood, cognitive ability, and overall mental wellness.

Nutrition and mental health

While many people understand how nutrition affects their physical health, there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to nutrition and mental health.

The truth is, nutrition and mental health really go hand in hand. What you put in your body directly corresponds to your health and wellbeing.

This is not to say you can never indulge in a hot fudge sundae or late-night pizza, but if you know how to give your body the fruits and vegetables it needs, you may find yourself experiencing less depression and anxiety.

Think about your eating habits. Do you struggle to find an appetite? Do you only crave sweets? Do you find yourself binging and then starving? These are all questions you can ask yourself that relate to how your brain may be building your eating habits.

Habits are hard to break if you don't look them square in the eye. Once you notice your unhealthy habits, you can begin to start building healthier ones.

We have a common knowledge as human beings of what healthy food we need for our physical health. However, there are foods that you may not be aware of being so good for your mental health. This includes mood disorders like depression and anxiety.

Studies show, dietary patterns high in processed foods (such as the Western diet) have a direct correlation with an increased risk of developing depression, mild cognitive impairment, and ADHD. Diets like the Mediterranean diet which are rich in fish, oil, and vegetables have the opposite affect.

When you deprive your body from the nutrients it needs, you increase your changes of low mood, fatigue, cognitive decline, and irritability. In turn, these behavioral changes can directly impact your mental health. 

The brain is an organ with very high metabolic and nutrient demands. On average, your brain will use about 20% of your caloric intake, and of that percentage, you want to be sure it's high in what foods the brain needs. 

Here's a list of foods that will support your brain and overall mental wellness:

-fish (omega-3 fatty acids)

-dark green leafy vegetables

-nut seeds

-olive oil

-fruits rich in vitamin C (oranges, lemons)

Foods to avoid for a healthy brain include:

-processed foods

-sugar (a little sugar is natural, but pay attention to the added sugars in processed foods!)

-alcohol (if you're naturally depressed, it's best to stay away from a depressant like alcohol)

-overdoing caffeine

A healthy diet includes a little bit of all of the above-listed foods. Turn to fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains, and lean proteins for an overall balanced diet.

Of course, it's okay to indulge in the "avoid" list every once in a while as long as you know how they affect your mental state. Indulging too often could lead to more depressive thoughts or disorders.

As always, it's best to consult your physician if you are experiencing feelings of mood swings, depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, or any mental illness.

Omega 3 fatty acids for brain health

Have you ever heard someone say that fish makes you smarter? Though it's not completely accurate, there is some truth behind the sentiment. It may be time to start adding more fish to the menu!

Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and trout are high in omega 3 which is healthy fat responsible for a healthy heart, strong bones, shiny hair, stronger nails, and of course a healthier mind.

You can get omega 3 in the food you eat, but many people also choose to take an omega 3 supplement or fish oil pill because of the many short and long-term benefits.

Your diet can only get you so far, because though food contains nutrients that we need, it can require a lot of work to maintain a diet full of superfoods and vegetables all the time.

So, if you're interested in increasing your intake of this brain-boosting fat, a supplement may be the way to go. 

Summary: Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables

Overall, studies have shown that eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet can improve your mental stability. If you believe you are struggling with a mood disorder or mental inability, you may want to consider changing what you eat.

To get the brain-boosting support you desire, you also may want to try a natural supplement like omega 3 to strengthen your mind and allow your brain the nutrients it craves.

However, if you or a loved one is dealing with a severe mental disorder, it is always best to seek medical advice from your physician.

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