If you’re hoping to improve your diet, chances are you’ve heard that your food can affect your physical health. But did you know that the foods you eat affect your mental health too?
Learning more about the connection between diet and mental health just might change what you put in your shopping cart.
The link between your diet and your brain
To understand the link between your brain and the food you eat, it helps to know about neurons. These are nerve cells that send messages between different parts of your brain and between your brain and nervous system.
Eating healthy foods can help spark the creation of new neurons. A healthy diet can also boost the number of connections between neurons. When neurons have more connections, you can think, learn, remember and communicate better. And when your brain works better, you feel better mentally.
How your gut health affects your mood
Your brain isn’t the only area of your body that can affect your mood. Scientists have learned that your digestive tract (gut) also plays a big role in your mental health. Healthy bacteria in your gut make neurochemicals used by the brain to control mood, emotion and other mental processes.
Some fermented foods and beverages contain large amounts of healthy bacteria that can improve your gut health.
Five more mood-boosting foods
In addition to probiotics, there are other nutrients that can improve your mental health. Here are five foods that contain mood-boosting nutrients:
Berries: If you have a sweet tooth, replace cookies and pastries with blueberries, raspberries or strawberries. Berries contain low amounts of natural sugar, and they are a good source of vitamin C. This vitamin helps regulate cortisol, a hormone released when the body is under stress.
Dark, leafy greens: Foods like broccoli, leaf lettuce, kale and spinach are prebiotics. These are foods that the healthy bacteria in your gut feed on. Dark, leafy greens are also rich sources of folate, magnesium, potassium and vitamin B12. These nutrients are known to reduce anxiety and depression.
Healthy cooking oils: Certain cooking oils contain nutrients that provide mental health benefits. Purchase olive oil for cooking on low or medium heat and coconut oil or avocado oil for cooking on high heat. These oils are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats have been linked to better memory in older people.
Nuts: Most nuts contain tryptophan. This amino acid helps the body make serotonin, a neurotransmitter that controls mood. The best mood-boosting nuts include almonds, cashews and walnuts.
Whole grains: Foods like brown rice, millet, quinoa and whole wheat help boost energy, which often improves mood. Because whole grains keep blood sugar steady, you won’t feel a sudden drop in energy like you might after eating refined white grains.
More diet-related strategies to improve your mood
These days, it’s more important than ever to stay on top of your mental health. Here are more diet-related strategies for boosting your mood.
- Make a list of your top 10 foods for mental health. Post it on your refrigerator or cupboard for future shopping trips.
- Limit your intake of processed foods, which are high in sugar, sodium and trans fats.
- Read product labels at the grocery store to learn about ingredients and calorie levels.
- If you’re looking for a new diet to follow, consider the Mediterranean diet. It is good for mental health because it contains lean protein, whole grains, healthy fats, fruits and veggies. Studies show it can lower your risks for depression by 25 to 35 percent if followed regularly. However, like with all diets, make sure to ask your primary care provider about it first.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink as it can lower serotonin levels.
- If you’re thirsty, drink water. Dehydration is associated with tension, confusion and depression.