There is no disputing that good nutrition helps you to achieve the best physical health. But, new research shows how important nutrition can be when it comes to mental health too.
You may have experienced the impact of stress and other mental health challenges on your appetite and food choices. And in this same way, nutrition is one of many tools that can improve mental health.
A good quality diet can play a major role in the prevention of mental disorders. Eating a nutritious, balanced diet can decrease your chances of experiencing mental health issues.
But, what if you’re already experiencing symptoms?
The good news is that recent clinical trials have found that improving food choices can help to reduce symptoms and improve moods. Choosing the right foods, drinks, and supplements can make a big difference.
We’re going to share some of the latest research that links improved nutrition to improved moods. We’ll also give you some practical strategies to optimize your nutrition for better mental health.
Medical disclaimer: There is growing evidence that certain foods, supplements, and lifestyle habits can influence the risk and symptoms of depression and anxiety. They may play an important role if symptoms are mild, and can also help to support other treatments. Please see your healthcare professional or book an appointment with me to discuss your personal needs and goals when it comes to nutrition for mental health.
If you’re in crisis: Call 911 for a medical emergency or 988 to reach the suicide hotline.
Food and nutrient strategies for better moods
There are a lot of nutrition strategies that can help to reduce stress and optimize moods in general.
Eat a variety of balanced, healthful foods
Getting a variety of foods helps you meet your nutrition needs for physical and mental optimal health. This includes loading up on fruits and vegetables, and getting enough protein, fiber, and healthy fats. A recent study showed reduced symptoms of depression when participants improved the quality of the foods they ate for three months. The improved diet focused on getting whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, olive oil, and nuts every day. With the addition of legumes, lean red meat, fish, poultry, and eggs a few times per week.
Ensure you’re eating meals as a matter of routine
Sometimes our moods and life in general disrupt our eating patterns. We may forget to eat meals or double-up when we forget that we’ve already eaten a meal. It may help to set reminders or schedule mealtimes to ensure that you nourish your body and mind. If that sounds like you, a meal plan with everything laid out for you may be helpful.
If you want to learn more about our meal planning services, schedule a free discovery call.
Enjoy your meals mindfully
Eating mindfully is when you pay attention to your food when you eat. This means making thoughtful food choices, eating slowly, chewing well, and savoring the flavors and textures. Mindful eating helps you focus on enjoying your food and also helps improve digestion. Plus, it can positively influence your mental health.
Probiotics are friendly, live microbes that can improve gut health and are often found as dietary supplements. Several recent studies show that probiotic supplements may help with depression and anxiety.
The gut-brain connection is what allows probiotics in the gut to influence moods. The gut and brain communicate with each other through the nervous system via neurotransmitters. This is the same connection that can cause upset stomachs during stressful times. It’s also why some gut conditions can trigger depression or anxiety. This is an emerging area of research that is shedding light on how we can use gut health to improve mental health.
If you’ve struggled with gut health, our gut health expert dietitian, Melissa Brown may be able to help.
Extra nutrition tips for depression
A diet rich in nutrients can help to nourish your body and brain so you can have energy and feel good throughout the day. Decreasing intake of refined sugars and caffeine can improve symptoms of depression.
Curb intake of refined sugars
There’s a link between depression and consuming a lot of refined sugar (like the kind found in sweets, desserts, sodas). One of the reasons is that the brain depends on a steady supply of blood sugar (glucose). When we eat or drink refined sugars, they’re absorbed very quickly and spike blood sugar levels like a rollercoaster. This effect can then impact the brain and influence moods. Many people find that when they’re feeling down, they crave sweets to help boost their moods. So while sweets may seem to feel good temporarily, over the long term they can lead to worsening mood swings.
Enjoy coffee in moderation
Coffee contains antioxidants that help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Coffee also contains caffeine. Low-to-moderate amounts of caffeine can help to increase energy, alertness, and concentration.
Some studies show that there may be a “sweet spot” of 2-6 cups of coffee per day to help lower the risk for depression. Caffeine affects people in different ways, so proceed with caution to find your sweet spot.
Extra nutrition tip for anxiety
One strategy to reduce feelings of anxiety is to ensure you don’t get too much caffeine (from all sources).
Don’t overdo the caffeine
While some coffee may help with symptoms of depression, too much caffeine can increase symptoms of anxiety. This is especially true for those who are more sensitive to it. Side effects of too much caffeine are jitteriness, increased heart rate, sleep difficulties, and anxiety. Moderating overall caffeine intake can help.
For some people, having no more that 400 mg of caffeine (about the amount in four cups of coffee) can help reduce some of these effects.
We offer genetic testing that can show how your body metabolizes caffeine. Once you get your results, you can meet with a dietitian to learn how to use this information to improve your moods.
Self-care strategies that can help with depression and anxiety
While nutrition is essential for good mental and physical health, other lifestyle factors also play a role.
Exercise can lower symptoms of depression and anxiety—especially when done most days of the week. Physical activity helps reduce stress hormones, lower blood pressure, and release “feel good” compounds called endorphins.
30 minutes of walking per day can help improve your mood. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, you don’t need those 30 minutes to be done in one session. Breaking it down into three 10-minute sessions during the day can add up to the same health benefits.
Getting enough quality sleep is great for your body and mind. Sleeping 7-9 hours/night can help you get into deep sleep which allows the body to repair tissues and supports a healthy immune system.
The most impactful strategy to get better sleep is to make it a priority and stick to a schedule. If needed, you can also limit screen time and bright lights before bed. These can trick your brain into thinking that the sun is still out and you should stay awake.
Mindfulness, meditation, and gratefulness practices can help you to manage stress. These stressors can lead up to or worsen depression and anxiety. These activities can help to reduce muscle tension, lower the heart rate, and calm the mind.
Examples include practicing gratitude or journaling. Focus on positive things and note why you appreciate them. You can use this to help challenge negative thoughts. Perhaps you can take some breaks each day to listen to your favorite music, play a game, read, or enjoy a hobby.
Being social with people whom you care about and who care about you is an often forgotten step toward optimal mental health. Reaching out and keeping in touch with friends and family —especially when you need support—can make a world of difference. You can also meet new people by joining a group or volunteering to support an issue that means a lot to you.
Nutrition can play a big role in the prevention of depression and anxiety. It can also help you to manage the symptoms once they occur. The vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats we eat help fuel our physical and mental health. This means that our food choices can help to optimize more balanced moods.
For your mental health, enjoy a nutrient-rich variety of foods that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and proteins. Cut back on foods that have refined sugars, and find your personal optimal amount of caffeine to enjoy every day can help.
Wondering how to add mood-boosting foods into your current dietary lifestyle? Want some delicious healthier alternatives to sugar-packed sodas and desserts? Need recommended high-quality supplements or probiotics? Book an appointment with one of our dietitians today to see how we can help.