The Diet And Mental Health Link

Every day, researchers are learning that overall health is easily impacted by diet. But one area that may surprise people is mental health. A link has been found between certain food choices and serotonin levels, a key neurotransmitter that manages many functions in the body, including moods. While most people assume that mental health is simply limited to a chemical imbalance in the brain, research has proven that some foods can boost mood and mental health while other options can make certain conditions worse.

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Processed foods and mood

A 2017 research study found that individuals who ate more processed foods were more at risk for depression than individuals who consumed more traditional diets. And another study from found that children who ate more processed foods were at a higher risk of developing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). To put the statistic into context, an example of a traditional diet would be the Mediterranean or Japanese diet. Both meal plans are high in vegetables, fruits, fish, seafood, and unprocessed grains with minimal refined or processed foods.

Consider the Mediterranean diet for depression

Food isn’t always a cure-all for mental health. But given the research, opting for a healthier diet can aid in reducing the risk for depression along with boosting gut health. Mediterranean diets prioritize lean meats and fish as well as legumes, while allowing for a moderate amount of dairy.

Alcohol, caffeine, sugary foods, and anxiety

Stress is a natural part of life. But for people going through extended periods of stress, backing away from drinks or processed foods might be a good idea. Research has shown that alcohol and caffeine in particular can make anxiety symptoms worse. Instead, consider incorporating foods that can reduce inflammation such as fiber-rich produce, unsaturated fats, and fermented foods with good bacteria.

Boost overall mental health with key nutrients

While simply adjusting diet isn’t a substitute for seeking professional help, incorporating healthier food choices can aid in supporting better emotional health. Consider foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, iron, magnesium, folate, B vitamins, zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin A. All of the above vitamins have consistently been linked positively with mental health through exhaustive research.

Taking a holistic approach to mental health

Eating well is important even for people who don’t think there are any underlying mental health conditions. The link between physical health and a balanced diet is well-reported. However, knowing how certain foods can impact serotonin levels or even alter mood can empower individuals to make smarter choices. If a mental health condition is suspected, people are encouraged to speak to a professional.


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