5 of the best (and worst) foods for your mental health

We always talk about physical health and diet. It stands to reason that the food we eat gives our body the nutrients it needs to function. But our relationship with food goes much deeper than that. There are social and emotional connections that can affect how we feel mentally.

What you eat can relieve or exacerbate mental health symptoms. Do not worry; variations in your diet are natural and won’t destroy your mental health. Food is fuel for your body and mind. Here are the foods you should eat to improve your mental health and the foods you should avoid.

You can also prioritize your mental health by meal time estimation and focus on foods that make you happy.

Foods to eat that improve your mental health

Whole foods

In general, it is best to eat as many nutrient-dense, well-balanced foods as possible diet as much as possible. A lot of that will be whole foods. Studies have found that a diet rich in whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, can reduce the risk of depression and anxiety. Basically, you worry less, stress less, and feel happier when you eat foods that are good for your body.

You eat for your body, but also for your brain. Focusing on foods beneficial to enzyme function ensures that the brain works properly. If you’re not sure where to start, consider the Mediterranean diet, which may help improve memory, cognition, and age-related brain atrophy. A systematic review found that following a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, can help reduce the risk of depression. This diet includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and seafood.

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are good for your mental health for several reasons. First, they give you energy without a crash – like sugar. Second, complex carbohydrates help maintain a healthy body, which is directly related to our mental health. Get fiber, for example. It is a complex carbohydrate that is essential for a healthy gut. Did you know that gut health controls the production of serotonin in the body? That’s right, 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that functions as a mood stabilizer for the brain.

Complex carbohydrates are the best choice for your diet. They improve mental health and have higher nutritional value than simple carbohydrates like sugar. Brown rice and starchy vegetables are great sources of complex carbohydrates.

Close-up of a man eating an omega-3 rich salad.

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Leafy vegetables

Leafy greens are one of those foods that have it all—they’re versatile and packed with nutrients. Many of which are essential for our brains. Leafy greens contain vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, folate, vitamin D and B-12. Nutrients like folate produce dopamine, the neurotransmitter that makes us feel good and satisfied. Vitamin D supports the production of serotonin, which helps improve mood. Eating leafy greens has also been linked to slowing cognitive decline with age.

Lean proteins

We get amino acids from protein we eat. Amino acids are involved in the production of important neurotransmitters such as dopamine. When there is an imbalance of dopamine, disorders such as depression, schizophrenia or addiction can occur. Lean protein can also help maintain serotonin levels, which reduces the risk of mood disorders.

Lean proteins to prioritize in your diet include skinless chicken, fish, eggs, Greek yogurt, and nuts.

Fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system. Simply put; your brain cannot develop, function or age without omega-3s. Deficiency can increase the risk of depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and schizophrenia.

You can get enough omega-3 from eating fish, nuts, leafy greens and extra virgin olive oil. Studies show that omega-3 supplements do not help treat depression when taken in addition to prescription antidepressants. Omega-3 supplements have not been found to help prevent depression.

However, for bipolar disorder, omega-3s can make an impact. When you take omega-3s, central nervous system phospholipases are inhibited, cutting off the production of certain prostaglandins associated with mania. Simply put, taking omega-3s in bipolar disorder can lead to mania, so be careful how much you take. Always take supplements in combination with your prescribed medication.

Foods that harm your mental health

Young woman looking at frozen pizza in grocery store.

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Trans fats

It’s no secret that fast food isn’t the best choice for a healthy diet. A diet high in trans fats can decrease serotonin production and increase inflammation, which increases the risk of depression. You don’t have to be perfect with your food choices. Foods high in trans fats sometimes won’t destroy your mental health. However, they generally do more harm than good.

Refined sugars

Refined sugars, as delicious as they are, are bad for your mental health. Sweet snacks give you a big boost of energy, but come with an equally heavy crash. A 2019 study found that eating regularly added sugars can compromise your body’s ability to deal with stress. A diet high in refined sugars also puts you at a higher risk of depression. All sugar creates a brain chemical imbalance in the brain.

Getting rid of sugar is not so easy. Studies show that stopping sugar intake can mimic withdrawal symptoms. Reducing your sugar intake is a process. Start by reducing the obvious sources — carbonated drinks, desserts and sweeteners. Then progress by intentionally making different food choices.

Processed foods

Frozen dinners and ramen are super convenient and often what we reach for when we’re sad. They offer pickup but it never lasts. Unfortunately, processed foods are not only bad for your physical health, but they can also affect your mental health.

High intake of ultra-processed foods is associated with symptoms of anxiety and mild depression. Processed foods can also cause inflammation in the body, specifically in the gut, compromising serotonin production.

Caffeine

Caffeine is an important part of many people’s lives. To be clear, you can be healthy and drink caffeine, but it can have impact on anxiety and stress levels.

Caffeine is a stimulant that helps us focus and stay alert. It does this by raising our heart rate and blood pressure, which can mimic symptoms of anxiety and make you feel on edge or anxious. Monitoring your caffeine intake is essential if you live with anxiety. You can also try drinking herbal teas for anxiety as a substitute for coffee or carbonated drinks. Teas have been shown to lower cortisol levels and help you feel calm.

A woman looking out the window while holding a cup of tea in her hand.

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Alcohol

For many people, alcohol and mental health are intertwined and are often used to relieve symptoms. Although it may relieve feelings of depression or anxiety in the moment, heavy alcohol use worsens conditions, particularly depression, mood disorders, and anxiety.

Remember that drinking alcohol or eating candy or fast food once in a while will not compromise your mental health journey. It’s all about moderation. Genesis watch what you eat it can improve your mental health.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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