The interconnection between diet and mental health is often underestimated. Most people only link diet to its benefits to sustenance, overlooking the fact that it is the foundation upon which our physical and mental health is built.
Diet is a vital lifeline that helps nourish our bodies, fuel our energy and enhance our well-being. Some of the benefits of diet to our physical health include providing the energy required to lead active lives, repairing and growth of our cells, and strengthening the immune system against diseases, etc.
Apart from its benefits to our bodies, Diet also enhances our mental health. Both the body and mind are inseparable entities and diet serves as the bridge that unites them.
Good health therefore describes a condition of optimal well-being, with both the body and the mind operating in sync. To be viewed as a completely healthy individual, your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
The Link Between Diet and Mental Health
1. Mood Regulation
Diet has been found to have a direct impact on neurotransmitters like serotonin, which regulate mood. Consuming foods rich in amino acids can promote serotonin production, thus leading to improved mood and reduced risk of depression. Also, foods rich in Vitamin B, like leafy greens and legumes have been linked with mood regulation as well as alleviating symptoms of anxiety and stress.
2. Gut-Brain Connection
The gut microbiome, which helps in controlling digestion, boosting our immune system and many other aspects of health, plays a vital role in mental health. A balanced diet with fibre-rich foods nourishes the gut microbiota, positively impacting mood and cognitive function.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These essential fats found in fatty fish (e.g. salmon, albacore Tuna, etc.), flaxseeds, and walnuts have been associated with improved mood and reduced symptoms of depression. Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of essential fats that play key roles in brain development and cell signalling.
4. Inflammation Control
Inflammation is a process that occurs when our body recognises anything foreign, such as an invading microbe or chemical, which results in the trigger of our immune systems to become activated.
A diet high in processed foods, sugar, and trans fats (e.g. fried foods) can trigger chronic inflammation, which has been linked to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. However, foods like tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, (e.g. spinach), nuts (e.g. almonds), and fruits (strawberries, oranges, etc.) have been associated with inflammation control.
5. Blood Sugar Balance
Stable blood sugar levels can help prevent mood swings and irritability. Bananas (being a great source of natural sugar), vitamin B6, and prebiotic fibre, work together to keep your blood sugar levels and mood stable.
6. Antioxidants for Brain Health
Antioxidant-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, have been known to protect the brain from oxidative stress and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
7. Nutrient Deficiencies
A diet poor in vitamin D or magnesium has been linked to increased susceptibility to depression and other mental health disorders.
There is a fascinating interconnection between diet and mental health that cannot be ignored. It has been established that diet isn’t just for physical health, as it helps shape our emotional and psychological well-being. It is important to make informed dietary choices for the betterment of our holistic well-being, both inside and out.
Researcher: Iloh Chioma Sandra