The connection between mental health and diet


Aashkaa Nair

Mental Health Writer

Nutrition and mental health

Good nutrition is a major part of our well-being. Good food not only helps maintain a fit and healthy body but also sharpens the brain. So, eating the right foods has physical as well as psychological benefits. Scientific studies have proved that diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health.

Recent studies have shown that the risk of depression increases by 80% of teenagers with low-quality diets, i.e a diet mainly consisting of junk food. These children are also very prone to Attention-Deficit Disorder.

In fact, nutritional psychiatry is a growing discipline that focuses on the use of food to provide these essential nutrients as part of an integrated or alternative treatment for mental health conditions.

Why is diet important for the mind?

For a long time, diet was only known to be related to physical health: bodybuilding, weight loss, immunity and others were the only terms synonymous with diet. However, in recent years research is increasingly showing the connection between diet and mental health. The outlook towards diet has had a major shift in people's perspectives.

A good diet consisting of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats improves one's state of well-being (physically and mentally). Studies have shown people suffering from mental health problems tend to die 10 to 25 years earlier than the general population. While several factors may contribute to this premature mortality, diet and nutritional factors are among them.

The Mediterranean diet, a diet high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, fish, and unsaturated fats is considered to be extremely healthy and has been linked to decrease in depression.

Impact of diet on mental health

In recent years, the relationship between mental health and diet has gained considerable attention of researchers, medical professionals and the general population. Even though dietary changes cannot be a replacement for medical treatment of mental disorders, but they do help in easing certain symptoms. The kind of food we consume also indicates our mental health.

People who binge-eat, highly processed and sugary foods were found to have a negative self-image of themselves. 80% of them were also found to have other psychological conditions like phobias, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. People who follow a healthy diet and incorporate regular exercise in their routines were less prone to mental health disorders and show increasing productivity levels.

Similarly, people whose diets were found to be less than adequate and who starved themselves to lose weight were found to have high levels of frustration, poor sleep quality, decreased focus and productivity levels, etc.

A good diet promotes a healthy gut and helps in brain development. Foods rich in Omega 3 and Zinc help boost connections between brain cells, whereas sugary foods have a negative impact on brain protein.

Roxanne Sukol, MD, preventive medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute says, 'We are, quite literally, what we eat. When we eat real food that nourishes us, it becomes the protein-building blocks, enzymes, brain tissue, and neurotransmitters that transfer information and signals between various parts of the brain and body.'

Good foods for mental health

1. Whole-grain foods:

Whole-grain foods contain complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are slow-releasing energy boosters that help maintain energy levels for a longer period. These include brown rice, oatmeal, whole-grain bread, barley, etc. They are also a source of Vitamin E which helps in brain development.

2. Healthy fats:

These include foods like Avocados, clarified butter (ghee), salmon, flaxseeds, walnuts, etc which are rich in Omega- 3 fatty acids. These enhance brain plasticity and also help in sharpening memory. Deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to an increase in depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, attention-deficit disorder, and schizophrenia.

3. Green tea:

Green tea is a great source of antioxidants. It is a relaxing drink, great for the mind and body. It protects the body from free radicals and is known for its ability to increase the body's metabolic rate for fat burning. Green tea also enhances one's mood, cognitive functions, stimulates the brain, and boosts memory.

4. Turmeric:

Turmeric, also known as Haldi, is a staple spice in the Indian household. It has been shown to cure flu, ease body pain, and throat infections.

Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric helps improve memory, boosts serotonin and dopamine, and helps new brain cells grow. Turmeric can be used in curries, vegetable dishes and even to make golden turmeric milk!

5. Nuts and seeds:

Nuts are high in healthy fats, antioxidants, and vitamin E. They help boost memory, enhance metacognition and cognition processes, and improve heart health.

Nuts can also prevent neurodegenerative diseases, helping slow brain deterioration. Seeds contain antioxidants that protect the brain from free radical damage. These include-almonds, cashew nuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.

6. Protein-rich foods:

The health benefits of protein are well-known. Foods like fatty fish, eggs, and chicken breast boost brain development. They help the neurons within the brain to communicate with each other.

Omega-3 fatty acids, B12, choline, and folic acid are important for proper brain functioning and have been linked to slow the progression of mental decline.

What goes inside reflects on the outside, which is why eating the right foods matter. After all, health is the only asset we can hold on to. Therefore, why not take care of it in a more conscious manner?

View more content by Aashkaa Nair

Discussion Board

What changes do you need to make in your diet to make yourself mentally fit?

Rohit Chopra
Thanks for the wonderful article, helped me understand the connection between diet and mental health. When we are stressed, we tend to consume unhealthy junk food, which then leads to even more stress and this develops into a vicious cycle.
Ayushi kumar jha
Thank you for introducing me to me with this wonderful app I can't thank you much as I learned a lot and understand the relation between food and mind. How equally both are important to train our mind and give peace.
I understand
Thank you! 🙂😊🤭