Mental Health Monday: Better Diet, Better Mental Health

By Sean Barrett, Registered Dietitian

It’s no secret that a healthy diet is good for you but did you know it can also be good for your mental health?

There is a growing evidence that the food we eat is strongly connected to our behavior and emotions.  While there is no specific diet that has been proven to relieve any mental illness or condition, a healthy diet may help as part of your overall treatment.

The most common mental disorder in the United States and around the globe is depression. There are many noticeable food patterns associated with a mental condition like depression. Those include poor appetite, skipping meals and a strong desire for sweets or junk food.

In fact people who eat a diet high in unprocessed plant based foods were up to 35% less likely to develop depression than people who did not. Cutting out or reducing the intake of junk food and highly processed foods can help in improving overall mood, there are other ways food can impact your mental health.

You may be able to improve your mental health by keeping a balanced diet that includes vitamin and mineral rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and protein. Research has shown the most support for two diets: the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes more healthy fats, like nuts, avocados and flaxseeds, and the DASH diet, which focuses on reducing sugar and salt intake.

Carbohydrate craving can be linked to the mood boosting chemical, serotonin. Low serotonin levels can cause cravings for sugary treats.  So choose your carbs wisely, limit sugar intake and opt for complex carbs like whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Protein can boost alertness, so try to eat something with protein several times a day, especially when you need to clear your mind and boost your energy.  Good sources of protein include fish, poultry and dairy.

If you are taking steps to live a healthy lifestyle but are still struggling with your mental health, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional about what role your diet may be playing for both your mind and body.