You probably know that eating poorly can have detrimental effects on your mental health--no one feels good after eating an entire 12-inch pepperoni pizza on their own. But the connection between the food you eat and mental health goes much deeper than most people realize.
The foods that you eat can affect how you feel both mentally and physically, in good and bad ways. This is why healthy eating can be so important— but it is also very hard, depending on your schedule, financial situation, and dietary needs. But let’s look at a few small ways you can eat healthier to improve your mental health.
Choosing the right batteries
Your energy levels can affect your mental health, and vice versa. Think of your body as a vehicle: if you put the right car battery in it, you’ll get a lot of energy out.
The foods that you eat can affect your energy levels, and thus your mental health. Ideally, you want to eat foods that are more likely to boost your energy, and help you feel up to your tasks.
Eating a lot of Vitamin B12 can help with this. Not getting enough B12 can cause fatigue and lethargy, so you want to make sure you get plenty. Animal products— eggs, milk, meat, fish, etc.— are all great sources of B12.
Protein is also an important part of healthy eating and energy levels. Choosing foods high in protein, like nuts or beans, will help boost your energy throughout the entire day.
Lastly, eat your veggies! Five healthy portions of fruits and vegetables every day are amazing for your physical and mental health, and there are endless ways to dress them up to taste delicious.
Healthy eating and mood disorders
Mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, can be greatly impacted by what you eat. Diets high in sugar have been shown to impair brain function, worsening the effects of mood disorders, especially depression.
Researchers from the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology write, “the composition, structure, and function of the brain are dependent on the availability of appropriate nutrients.” If you suffer from a disorder like depression, there are things you can do to help improve your mood, aside from just avoiding large quantities of sugar. Many Eastern diets, like Mediterranean and Japanese, have actually been shown to lower chances of depression by 25-35%. Additionally, they lead to higher cognitive function later in life, which helps mood disorders.
This is because these diets are high in foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, grains, and fish. These foods aid your body in serotonin production, which is the chemical that can be inhibited by depression. In fact, about 95% of the your serotonin is produced in your GI tract! So try working more of these foods into your diet and see how it improves your overall mood.
Water, water, and more water
It’s the same thing you hear from every health expert: drink more water. And they’re right. Hydration affects every part of the body and mind, from mood and energy levels to headaches and body pain. Drinking properly is the most important part of healthy eating. As my friends used to say: “hydrate or die-drate.”
But how much water should you drink? The common thought is 6-8 glasses a day. However, everyone has a different body and different lifestyle, which is why many experts have a more thorough recommendation.
Ideally, you should drink at least 0.5 ounces of water for every pound you weigh. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should drink a minimum of 75 ounces of water daily. The best way to keep track of this is to get a water bottle, know how much it holds, and then figure out how many times you should fill it each day.
Three Four square meals a day
You were probably taught from a very young age that three meals a day is healthy eating. But for many people, this may not be true. Many experts actually recommend that you eat four to five small meals a day, rather than three large ones.
This, again, returns to energy levels and mood. Eating four smaller meals will space the energy input throughout the day, so you maintain more consistent levels, rather than crashing in-between meals. And, of course, what you eat for those meals matters— again, protein, fruits, veggies, B12, and grains are all great parts of a balanced diet. It has also been shown that people who eat more meals a day tend to choose healthier foods, so this could make choosing good foods easier for you.
Experts, from psychology to food science, are a bit torn on the subject. There is no evidence to say it helps with weight loss, but there is evidence to support the theory that it boosts energy levels. It can also be a good option for people who don’t eat a lot at one time, but rather prefer smaller portions more often.
My old therapist first gave me this advice, and it has worked wonders. But of course, it may not work for you. So try it out, and if it isn’t working, you can always go back to three meals a day. Just remember, what those meals are made of matters, no matter how many of them you eat.
Putting it all together
Batteries, mood regulation, hydration, and food quantity. They are all large topics that could each have their own articles. But put together, they make up the foundation of a solid relationship between healthy eating and mental health.
So go ahead and give these tips a try! See if they improve your mood, energy levels, and overall feelings of well-being. And if they do, share it with your friends! It’s always nice to spread easy ways to help live a better, happier life.