If you’re familiar with my mental wellness story, you know how badly I struggled with my mental health. It wasn’t until I began to understand the connection between nutrition and mental health that I learned to optimize my physical, psychological, and emotional well-being! That’s where nutritional psychiatry entered the picture: the practice of eating mood-boosting foods and making other lifestyle changes for improved psychological well-being. I’d hit several rock bottoms over my journey thus far, but was eventually able to feel amazing in my mind-body-soul through a series of dietary and lifestyle changes.
I want you to know that you can, too, my friend!
Whether you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, poor self-worth, or any other mental health concern that’s preventing you from leading a life of happiness and contentedness, holistic mental wellness could be the solution you’ve been waiting for. This blog post will tell you why.
The Connection Between Nutrition and Mental Health
Good nutrition is important for so many reasons: in addition to improving our physical health and reducing our risk of chronic medical conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, the food choices we make also impact our mood, thoughts, and feelings. The foods we consume each day can either support our psychological health and provide our brains with premium fuel, or they could increase inflammation; cause oxidative stress; and impair our mood, brain structure, and overall brain function.
Take sugar, refined carbohydrates, and saturated fats, for instance. Diets high in sugar, refined carbs, and saturated fats have been linked to higher rates of depression, oxidative stress, and inflammation in the brain and body.
On the other hand, diets high in fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, and dietary antioxidants have been shown to reduce the risk of depression. Some good sources of dietary antioxidants include plant foods like green tea, fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and legumes. Spices and herbs are packed with antioxidants as well!
That being said, most Americans are fueling their minds and bodies with poor-quality foods high in saturated and trans fats, refined sugars, and sodium. We’re eating too many of the wrong foods and moving our bodies a whole lot less than we should be! It’s no wonder nearly one in five adults struggles with a mild-to-severe mental, emotional, or behavioral health condition. Even more terrifying is how major depression is predicted to be one of the top three causes of illnesses by 2030!
So, what can you do to boost your mental health and reduce symptoms like anxiety and depression?
Fill your plate with brain-loving plant foods!
It’s True: Eating Whole Foods Can Drastically Improve Your Mood!
Now that we’ve discussed the connection between nutrition and mental health, let’s take a moment to talk about dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin (the body’s four feel-good hormones).
These four hormones affect how we think, feel, and behave — and boosting them with fiber-rich plant foods and good nutrition practices can make a huge difference when we’re struggling with depression or anxiety. After all, 95 percent of the body’s serotonin — the hormone that regulates our mood, memory, and ability to learn — is produced in the gut!
What’s more, an imbalanced intestinal microbiota has been linked to depression — particularly in patients with higher levels of Morganella in their guts. However, eating lots of probiotic and prebiotic foods, increasing your fiber intake, and consuming a variety of plant foods each day can all help to increase the amount of beneficial bacteria in your gut and reduce your risk of depression.
Several foods that nourish the brain AND gut include:
Healthy dopamine boosters: think tyrosine-rich foods like bananas, avocados, and pumpkin seeds.
Serotonin-boosting foods: these include eggs; tofu; spinach; probiotic and prebiotic foods and supplements; and tryptophan-rich fruits, vegetables, and meats (e.g. turkey and chicken).
Endorphin-releasing foods: hello, dark chocolate and spicy foods.
Foods that encourage exercise and human connection: certain lifestyle changes — like improving your gut microbiota and incorporating aphrodisiacs into your diet — may encourage you to engage in oxytocin-producing activities such as exercise, hugging and cuddling, socializing, bonding, or sex with a trusted partner. Some scientifically proven aphrodisiac foods include maca root, pistachios, and saffron.
Nourishing your gut is one of the best things you can do for your brain and physical, mental, and emotional health.
I know this from personal experience!
Where to Go From Here
While the connection between nutrition and mental health is a topic we could talk about all day, my hope is that this introductory blog post helped you to understand the effect diet has on mental and emotional wellness so you, too, can start living a fulfilled life. I know what it’s like to struggle with my mental health, and now it’s my mission to help others who are tired of feeling depressed, anxious, and stressed. That’s exactly why I launched The Fulfilled Fork!
If you’re finally ready to heal your body, mind, and spirit, I’m here to help you navigate your wellness journey. I offer collective and private coaching, nutritional genetic testing, and all the support you need to start nourishing your way to better physical, mental, and emotional health!