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The Transition House, Inc.

The connection between diet, nutrition and mental health

diet nutrition and mental health

Physical health and mental health are strongly linked. Did you know that the quality of your diet can impact your mental health? According to Mental Health America, a poor diet low in nutritious foods can increase your risk for depression, one of the top five leading causes of disability globally.

How a poor diet affects mental health

A study of young people concluded that those with the healthiest diets were half as likely to develop depression compared to those with unhealthy diets. On the other side of the spectrum, young people whose diets consisted primarily of processed and junk foods were 80% more likely to develop depression than their healthier counterparts.

The relationship between diet and mental health begins early-on, in a mother’s womb. Children of mothers who had diets high in processed, fried and sugary foods had more emotional problems than children of mothers with healthy, nutritious diets.

How diet can improve mental health

One study showed that patients were able to relieve symptoms of depression by improving their diet and that the relationship between a healthy diet and depression symptom relief was strongly correlated. The more patients improved their diet, the more their symptoms of depression improved. One-third of the patients who were studied found full relief of their depression symptoms by improving their diet.

How to improve your diet for good mental health

If you’re trying to improve your diet to achieve good mental health, here are a few mental health tips to get you started:

  • Increase your intake of nutrient-dense, whole foods.
    Fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fish and unsaturated fats such as olive oil should be a staple in your diet. People who have diets high in these foods are 35% less likely to develop depression than people who eat less of them.
  • Add omega-3 fatty acids to your diet.
    Not only do omega-3 fatty acids improve brain health, they also reduce inflammation and your risk for heart disease. You can find omega-3 fatty acids in fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout, anchovies and sardines. Vegetarians and vegans have plenty of options as well. Non-meats with healthy levels of omega-3 fatty acids include flax seeds, chia seeds, dark leafy greens, brussels sprouts, kale and spinach. Fish oil supplements are also a popular way to add omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. Studies show that for some, taking an omega-3 supplement can help with depression as much as antidepressants. You should consult with your doctor or psychiatrist before deciding to take an omega-3 supplement in place of or in conjunction with antidepressants.
  • Supplement your diet with B-vitamins.
    A lack of B12 in your diet can increase your risk of depression, especially if you are older. That’s because B-vitamins help to regulate neurotransmitters in your brain as well as your immune function and amino acids, which are the building blocks for proteins in your body. You can find B-vitamins such as folate and folic acid in leafy greens, legumes and whole grains. Fish like salmon, trout, and tuna as well as beef, lamb, clams, chicken, turkey and milk are all good sources of B12.
  • Get plenty of vitamin D.
    Low levels of vitamin D are linked to depression, particularly seasonal depression which occurs in the winter due lowered amount of sunlight exposure. Getting five to thirty minutes of sunlight twice a week generally provides all the vitamin D you need. You can supplement this by eating fatty fish like salmon and tuna, or by taking a cod liver oil supplement. A healthy amount of vitamin D is essential to healthy brain functioning, including mood regulation and critical thinking.

Simple changes to your diet can greatly impact and improve your mental health, particularly if you are struggling with depression. Just like physical health, mental health doesn’t happen overnight. Maintaining a healthy diet in conjunction with behavioral therapy can help you overcome symptoms of depression and live a healthier, happier life. Ready to get started? Contact one of our counseling centers today.

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