Food for Thought: How What You Eat Impacts your Mood and Mental Health
Updated: Mar 25
Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food. – Hippocrates
When we're feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or stressed, we often turn to comfort food, such as sugary or fatty treats, to make us feel better. However, as a registered holistic nutritionist and psychotherapist, I've come to understand that our diet has a direct impact on our mental and emotional wellbeing. What we eat influences our brain's function, structure, mood, and thoughts.
People who struggle with mental health disorders are often found to have significant deficiencies in essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown a strong correlation between specific nutrients and improved mood and outlook. Therefore, making changes to our diet can be a powerful step in improving our mental and emotional wellbeing.
One nutrient that is essential for our mental health is omega-3 fatty acids. These are found in oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, and in flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation in the body, which is linked to anxiety and depression. They also help to support brain function, improving memory and cognitive function.
Vitamin B12 is another nutrient that is essential for our mental health. This is found in animal products, such as meat, fish, and dairy, and is crucial for maintaining healthy nerve and blood cells. Vitamin B12 is also important for producing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood.
Probiotics are also important for our mental health, as they help to support the gut-brain axis. Our gut and brain are interconnected, and inflammation in the gut can impact our mood and mental clarity. Fermented foods, such as kefir, yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha, are rich in probiotics and can help to support a healthy gut microbiome.
In addition to these nutrients, vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium are also essential for our mental health. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, berries, and leafy greens and helps to reduce inflammation in the body. Zinc and magnesium are found in nuts, seeds, and legumes and help to support brain function and reduce anxiety.
While it's important to add these nutrients to our diet, it's also essential to avoid certain foods that can have a negative impact on our mental health. These include simple sugars, fried foods, alcohol, and excessive caffeine. These foods can lead to inflammation, spike blood sugar levels, and disrupt our sleep, leading to anxiety and depression.
It's important to be patient with ourselves when making dietary changes. It takes time for these changes to have a positive effect on our mental health, but it's worth the effort. Combined with counseling, increasing physical activity, getting better sleep, and addressing other lifestyle factors, dietary changes can help to improve our mental and emotional wellbeing.
If you're struggling with depression or anxiety and finding it difficult to participate in day-to-day life, please visit your doctor and reach out to a counselor for support. You don't have to cope alone, and there are resources available to you.