Munching for Your Mental: Diet’s Role in Mental Health
By: Jade Scott
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), 46.6 million adults in the US will experience mental illness this year and 11.2 million will experience a serious mental illness that will interfere with their ability to complete day to day activities.
The most common mental health disorders for adults are:
Signs that you or someone close to you may have a mental disorder:
chronic low energy
feeling of worthlessness
abuse of drugs or alcohol
loss of appetite or overeating
ruminating on thoughts or memories
confusion or consistent forgetfulness
thoughts of harming one's self or others
lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
failure to complete standard tasks such as going to work or cooking
Those diagnosed with mental health disorders are steered towards medication as a means to treat their disorder. My first therapy session went similarly. I was immediately asked to see a psychiatrist for something to lift my mood. My therapist at the time advised me that any work we did in our sessions would be difficult for me without medicine. I have always believed in the power of holistic healing and something about taking a man-made medication that would alter my mind didn't sit well with me. After leaving the session, I began researching natural mood enhancers and ways to increase mental resilience. A recent shift in culture has more and more people moving from western medicine to a holistic approach to health and wellness. Mental health is no exception; this is when my love for nutrition was born.
We all know how good our bodies feel when we eat well, but can changes in diet truly affect our mental health? Nutritional Psychiatry is a field of study which is dedicated entirely to studying the link between what we eat and how we feel. This is a very reasonable belief considering how vital our diet is to how well our body and mind perform. Depression, for example, has been linked to low levels of vitamin D. Whereas other choices in a diet like how much meat we consume or how frequently we consume caffeine have been linked to anxiety and other mood disorders (Trello, 2019). Food is, at its core, medicine. Significant changes in lifestyle and diet have been proven to dramatically impact mortality rates as well as the development and progression of chronic illnesses. There is no denying that there is a connection between what we eat and the overall health of our body and our brains!
Once I began changing my diet and incorporating working out into my daily routine, I saw a dramatic improvement in my quality of life. Although I still struggled with my mental health, these changes allowed me to have more energy and simultaneously minimized a lot of the other symptoms of anxiety and depression that kept me from fully living my life. I began taking spin, eating mindfully, and caring more about my body which spilled into an overall improved mental state.
If holistic wellness is your jam or something you are interested in exploring, the following are foods that have been shown to improve brain function and increase serotonin (the feel-good hormone):
The risk of depression is 25% to 35% lower in those who eat Mediterranean and traditional Japanese diets.
Complex carbs help provide a slow release of glucose to the body and provide long-lasting energy for our body and brain.
Fatty fish and seaweed are rich in omega-3s which affect the production of neurotransmitters and support synapses in the brain.
The following are some dietary choices to avoid:
relying on processed foods
the incorporation of sugary drinks and snacks
excessively eating meat, dairy, and simple carbs
regular consumption of caffeine and energy drinks
According to the Harvard Health Medical School, the jury is still out. They confirm that food is linked to our mood and our energy levels, however, with so many other contributing factors it is difficult to conclusively determine if what, how, and when eat can prevent or treat mental illness (Trello, 2018).
Ultimately, Mental health and nutrition are ever-evolving fields that continue to be revealed more with time. Whether or not you are on board with holistic health or you are team western medicine, we have a responsibility to be educated on the options we have in addition to consulting with a doctor regarding our mental health. Diet is not a replacement for therapy or other forms of treatment and the best treatment is to consistently strive for the overall health of our mind, body, and soul.
About the Author
Jade is a twenty-seven year old wellness blogger currently living in Boynton Beach, Florida. She is also a Flight Attendant and self-proclaimed Nutrition Nerd.
Her goal is to cultivate a life that gives her the freedom to live on her own terms and to help others to feel empowered to do the same. Jade has spent years working alongside mental health professionals and studying nutrition to ultimately become a holistic nutritionist and therapist.
Jade is available for speaking engagements, seminars, and freelance writing arrangements.