Nutrition, Diet and Mental Health

It’s no secret that mental health and physical health go hand in hand. The ever-growing number of Americans suffering from a mental illness could see significant improvement in their condition, if they examine and alter their diet.

While some may suffer from depression or other mental illnesses as a primary disease, many experience mental illness as a result of a preexisting chronic illness or disability. By eating food that contains nutrients that are key to treating the illness, mental health may also improve.

The most common mental illnesses in America are anxiety and depression. By increasing your intake of these foods, you may see an improvement in your symptoms.

1. Leafy Greens:
a. Spinach, kale, mustard greens and various lettuces are abundant in folate, a B vitamin that is crucial to the battle against depression, fatigue and insomnia.
2. Whole Grains:
a. Carbohydrates release glucose very quickly, producing a high followed by a crash. When you get your carbs through whole grains, the glucose release is slower, giving you a steady amount of energy without the crash and its accompanying bad mood.
3. Lean Protein:
a. Lean meat such as fish, turkey, chicken, eggs and beans, contain the amino acid tryptophan, one of building blocks of protein. Tryptophan produces serotonin, the chemical a healthy brain produces to regulate mood.
4. Fatty Fish:
a. Omega-3 fatty acids are vital to the brain’s production of dopamine and serotonin. Eating salmon, herring, or mackerel, will reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and various other mental disorders.
5. Yogurt:
a. Yogurt with active cultures boost the amount of healthy bacteria in the gut, which reduces anxiety and stress hormones. In addition to yogurt, try kefir, kimchi or tempeh.

While making sure your diet includes foods containing the nutrients necessary for a healthy brain is important, it is not a substitute for medical care. Depression is a disease, and as such it requires the help of a licensed physician to ensure that all routes are explored for the management of your symptoms.

It’s possible that medication will be needed to control more severe symptoms, however, maintaining a healthy, nutritious diet will give you a boost and make your journey to wellness smoother. If your body is healthy, your brain’s health will also improve.

Though good food is essential for good mental health, it’s not the only thing you need to think about when you examine your diet for weaknesses. Quantity and frequency of meals are also extremely important.

When a person suffers from anxiety or depression, they may experience a loss of appetite. When a body is chronically hungry (though the person suffering from mental illness may not feel it) moods can be thrown even further out of balance. If suffering from depression or anxiety, it’s crucial to maintain the proper caloric intake in order to help your brain produce the neurotransmitters needed for good mental health.

One thing to avoid when suffering from depression and anxiety is alcohol. Not only is alcohol incompatible with most antidepressants, but it can interfere with sleep patterns, making depression even more difficult to control. Refined sugar is also something to avoid when suffering from depression as it creates energy crashes and mood swings.

Making sure that your body gets proper nutrition is vital for good mental health and controlling the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Eat regular meals, avoid alcohol and sugar, and keep leafy greens, lean protein, yogurt with probiotics, whole grains, and fatty fish in your diet. By doing everything you can to heal your mind nutritionally, you give yourself the best chance at defeating depression.

Photo credit: KellyB. / Foter / CC BY

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