Eating a bad diet can lead to poor mental health (plus best diets for mental health)
What you eat affects many aspects of your health, such as your weight, your athletic performance and your risk of developing serious diseases. It turns out, what you eat affects your mental health.
In particular, eating processed foods or following diets rich in them, like the Western diet, might put you at risk of developing anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. That’s what a team of researchers from England found after reviewing studies on diet, nutrition and mental health.
In contrast, eating clean, nutritious foods or following whole food diets like the Mediterranean diet helps keep your brain healthy and may lower your risk of developing mental health disorders.
In an earlier study, British researchers looked at how nutrition affects mental health. In particular, they looked at the effects of diet on the hippocampus, the area of your brain where new brain cells develop. This process, known as neurogenesis, is linked to your mood and cognition.
Diets rich in fat and sugar, stressful experiences and excessive alcohol consumption all have a negative impact on neurogenesis. On the other hand, eating nutrient-dense foods and practicing healthy eating habits promotes neurogenesis in the hippocampus.
If you want to keep mental health problems like anxiety and depression at bay, you’ll need to make healthy lifestyle changes and tweak your diet accordingly. Limit your alcohol consumption, ditch highly processed foods and add more nutrient-dense foods to your diet for a healthy mind and brain.
Best diets for mental health
According to recent studies, some diets are better for mental health than others. These diets are:
The Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet, arguably the healthiest diet on Earth, consists of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, legumes and fish. It may also include small amounts of dairy products like milk and cheese.
Research shows that the Mediterranean diet is effective at relieving depression. This effect is likely due to the many brain-boosting foods featured in the diet, such as fruits, vegetables and nuts. These foods contain antioxidants that protect your brain cells from inflammation.
The Mediterranean diet can also help improve your cholesterol and blood sugar levels. This, in turn, may lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Here are some tips on how to get started with the Mediterranean diet:
- Focus on whole foods
- Eat more fresh vegetables
- Swap red meat for fish
- Cook with olive oil
- Cut back on milk or opt for plant-based alternatives
- Replace refined grains with whole grains
- Snack on nuts
- Skip sugar-sweetened snacks and drinks
Low-calorie diets require you to reduce the amount of food that you eat. The extent of this restriction will vary depending on your needs and your current calorie intake.
For example, if you normally eat 2,000 calories per day, you would have to reduce that to 1,200–1,400 calories per day. But you would still have to maintain proper nutrition by eating foods rich in nutrients that you need for overall health, such as protein, fiber and vitamins and minerals.
A 2015 study showed that people who reduced their calorie intake by 25 percent for six months had fewer depressive symptoms than those who didn’t.
However, take note that calorie restriction may sometimes lead to eating disorders. If you want to follow a low-calorie diet for better mental health, consult with a holistic nutritionist beforehand. You also shouldn’t follow a low-calorie diet once you’ve achieved your desired results or you may end up with worse mental health.
Intermittent fasting is not so much a proper diet as it is an eating pattern. It normally involves fasting for more than half the day then eating during the remaining hours. There is some evidence that intermittent fasting helps improve mood and mental well-being. It can also enhance alertness and promote tranquility.
There are many ways of doing intermittent fasting. The easiest and most popular method is the 16/8 method, which involves skipping breakfast and then restricting your eating period to eight hours, such as from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. You then fast for 16 hours until your next eating period.
As with calorie restriction, intermittent fasting can lead to eating disorders if not done right. Consult with a holistic nutritionist before attempting to do intermittent fasting.
The state of your mental health is inextricably linked to the foods that you eat. If you regularly eat processed foods, red meat and the like, you can expect to develop problems like anxiety and depression. The good news is you’re less likely to develop mental health problems if you regularly eat healthy and minimally processed foods.
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