We all know that eating a balanced diet is good for our health, contributing to everything from weight loss to boosting the immune system and even reducing the risk of chronic disease. But did you know a healthy diet is also important for keeping your mental health in check?
Yep, that’s right — research shows that eating a healthy diet, one that includes plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains and limits highly-processed foods, can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Here’s what you need to know about the link between diet and mental health.
It turns out that what you eat actually plays a vital role in how you feel. One study published in the medical journal BMC Medicine found eating a healthy diet is associated with preventing the onset of depression. While another study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition found
Eating a healthy diet can also help you sleep better, and research shows that a good night’s sleep can improve mental health and general wellbeing, while poor sleep patterns increases the risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
Ditch bad fats
When we’re feeling depressed or stressed, many of us turn to comfort food. But according to Teri Lichtenstein, consulting dietician at Entity Health, this might be doing more harm than good.
“Highly-processed foods like white bread, potato chips, and biscuits cause a spike in blood sugar that can heighten feelings of anxiety,” she says.
She recommends opting for healthy fats instead, like extra virgin olive oil, fish, avocados, and eggs. “These healthy fats can easily move through the body to the brain cell membrane, creating a positive effect on mood-related molecules, so don’t shy away from using extra virgin olive oil in your daily cooking.”
To feel better, eat less. According to leading nutritionist Teresa Mitchell-Patterson, eating less stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that tends to make people feel calm and relaxed.
Eat more berries
Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries are packed with powerful antioxidants like vitamin C or flavonoids, which are known to help reduce stress.
“A diet rich in flavonoids protects the brain from oxidative stress,” Mitchell-Patterson says.
Pile on the fruit and veggies
Increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables may reduce levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Mitchell-Patterson recommends eating a wide variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables, such as beetroots, carrots, sweet potatoes, avocados, bananas and oranges.
Lichtenstein offered a similar point, saying that those who followed a Mediterranean diet regularly have better mental health. Although there’s no firm definition of what a Mediterranean diet contains, some of its hallmarks include whole grains and legumes that have had little processing, a wide variety of fresh vegetables eaten every day, cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, some fish, little meat and dairy products and low-to-moderate wine intake with meals.
Improve gut health
Previous studies have found that a healthy gut could be linked to less stress. Gut microbiome, which is the combined genetic material of the microorganisms (made up of good and bad bacteria) in the gut, plays a vital role in cognitive function and even mood. Mitchell-Patterson says eating Greek yogurt helps increase the good bacteria in your gut.
A healthy diet doesn’t need to be hard work. Mitchell-Patterson recommends starting the day off with either eggs or oats with berries and a dollop of Greek yogurt. For lunch, opt for a leafy green salad with a serve of fish, chicken or protein-packed beans. And for dinner, she recommends digging into a hearty rice or pasta dish with lots of colourful veggies and protein. Mitchell-Patterson suggests choosing whole meal pasta or brown rice over white varieties.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.