Boosting Your Mental Health with the Tool of Nutrition

Nutrition and mental health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a reminder that it’s important to take care of our mental health as a key element of our well-being.

When most of us think about taking care of our mental health, we think about activities such as meditation, yoga, getting physical activity or doing a hobby we enjoy. These are all great tools for promoting brain health, but we sometimes forget how important good nutrition is.

Mental Health and Food

Healthy food is not just fuel for the body, but also fuel for the brain. Your brain is constantly working, even when you’re asleep! The quality of the food you eat directly affects the nutrients that your brain receives.

High-quality foods contain a lot of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that nourish the brain and protect it from harmful free radicals that cause oxidative stress. Processed or refined foods that are high in sugar promote inflammation through the body and brain, which is also linked to mood disorders and problems with brain function.

The Importance of a Healthy Digestive System

Did you know your digestive system has a big impact on brain health? According to the American Psychological Association, gut bacteria in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract produce neurochemicals that your brain uses for both physical and mental processes, including the regulation of mood.

“Good” gut bacterial also:

  • Limits inflammation
  • Protects the lining of your intestines
  • Improves how you absorb nutrients
  • Activates neural pathways in your brain

Your GI tract also produces about 95% of your serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that regulates and stabilizes mood. Stress is thought to suppress gut bacteria and alter many of these natural biological processes.

Stress and Depression

As mentioned above, sugar and processed foods can lead to inflammation, which may contribute to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Ironically, when we are feeling bad, we often reach for these foods as “comfort foods.” These are things like chips, cookies, ice cream and frozen dinners. Many of us get trapped in a cycle of feeling down, reaching for these trigger foods, then continuing to feel worse because we aren’t nourishing ourselves.

It is common for people with stress and depression to either eat too much or too little. Just as eating too much can make you lethargic and lower your mood, and even worsen depression, eating too little can make you feel weak and exhausted.

Tips for Using Nutrition to Boost Your Mental Health

Here are some healthy eating tips to help fuel your brain and give your mental health a boost. Don’t just use these tips for Mental Health Awareness Month; practice them year-round!

  • Pay attention to how food makes you feel – not just in the moment, but later on and the next day.
  • Limit your consumption of refined sugar and processed foods.
  • Have a healthy snack prepared for when hunger strikes, such as fruit, nuts, hard-boiled eggs or veggies and hummus.
  • Consume plenty of fruits, vegetables and healthy fats such as olive oil and avocados. Omega-3’s, found in healthy fats, support brain function.
  • Eat mindfully in a place where you are not distracted and where you can relax and really notice what you are eating.

For more about nutrition and mental health, click here to see a post shared by the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) during Mental Health Awareness Month last year.

*The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) is the Producer of the Your Weight Matters Campaign.

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