The Surprising Connection Between Your Diet and Mental Health

by Dr. Nick Zyrowski November 06, 2023

When it comes to mental health, the old saying that you are what you eat has never been more relevant. There is a strong link between what you put into your mouth and how you feel physically and mentally. Although you may not have realized it, your diet has a significant impact on your mental health. In this article, we will discuss how these dietary choices affect your well-being and give you some tips to improve your mental health that are easier than you think.

The missing link

From a very young age, most of us get taught that we need to eat nutritious foods so we can grow up to be strong and healthy. Yet many of us aren’t told how those same foods affect our mental health. The reason is that until recently, some of us didn’t know. Eating a well-balanced diet leads to thinking clearly and feeling more alert. (1) When you eat fast food throughout the week, you may notice that you feel lethargic and your thinking is a bit foggy. In that respect, you can see how diet alone could be a large contributor to mental health.

Not only that, but a growing body of evidence is showing that processed foods can be addictive, stimulating the dopamine centers in our brains. These foods tend to have high levels of sugar and unhealthy fats. (2)

From the research, it seems clear that diet can have a positive or negative effect on mental health. Your brain requires nutrients just as the rest of your body to function well. The food you eat feeds your mind as well as your body, thereby affecting neurotransmitter production, which regulates your mood.

Nutrients for mental health

When you want to consume the proper nutrients for mental health, you want to eat whole foods that support brain cognition. Some of the vitamins that affect mood and can lift depression are omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B6 and B12, and folate. (3)

When people have low levels of these nutrients, it is often from eating a poor diet, filled with lots of processed foods. The deficiency can lead to mood changes, depression, and anxiety. 

Minerals are also crucial for brain health. You want to have adequate levels of magnesium and zinc. (4) Many people are deficient in magnesium, causing a host of health issues, including problems with low mood.

One important point to remember is that it’s not about a few nutrients you can add to your diet now and then. It’s how you eat in general that will determine your overall wellness. The research shows that the patterns will either promote or hinder your mental health.

Foods that work for your mental health

When we mentioned omega-3 fatty acids, these are essential for cognitive functioning. There is also a link found between getting enough omega-3s and depression reduction. (5) So how do you get these nutrients in your diet? The foods that have omega-3 fatty acids are fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel. You can also get them from nuts and seeds if you don’t care for fish or have concerns about the mercury content. You may also want to include a quality omega-3 supplement in your vitamin routine. You don’t want to buy fish oil that you find at the local grocery store because these are often rancid and won’t contribute to your health at all.

Dark, leafy greens can be beneficial to lift your mood. These have protective nutrients for your brain. Don’t forget your vitamin D-rich foods. Most of us don’t get enough vitamin D from sun exposure, so we need to eat foods that contain it and possibly take a supplement. Vitamin D is found in eggs, oily fish, and dairy products. Berries are also great sources of antioxidants, which can reduce stress-related symptoms and decrease depression. (6)

Meat is a great source of vitamin B12. You may have noticed that it’s gotten a bad reputation in the mainstream news lately, but contrary to what you may read and hear, meat is good for you. Along with vitamin B12, meat also has zinc, which is good for depression and your immune system.

Problems with prescriptions

We don’t suggest anyone get a prescription drug for the first line of treatment when it comes to mental health problems if other natural options may help. Depression and anxiety can be debilitating, but many of the drugs on the market either mask the symptoms or make the problems worse.

You don’t have to take our word for it. When you see commercials for the newest antidepressant, listen closely to the side effects. Many of them are serious and can be harmful. These drugs can cause loss of sleep, agitation, anxiety, and heart problems, just to name a few. (7)

Getting off these drugs can also be challenging. Most doctors recommend tapering off as the withdrawal effects from stopping at once can be severe.

Practical tips for change

If you’ve ever tried to change your eating habits, the chances are good that you may have gotten frustrated. Sometimes people give up because it seems more complicated than it should. At times, many of us don’t have the time to make an elaborate meal so we feel that a fast-food sandwich is our only option.

We understand that you may be on the go constantly and need a quick meal that is also healthy. When time is short, you can whip up a meal that is ready in thirty minutes and requires very little prep time. The recipes in this cookbook are low-carb and are filled with nutrients that your brain and your body need.

You don’t have to feel overwhelmed at the thought of making changes. There are typically replacement items that can help you transition to a healthier way of eating. Instead of sugary snacks, eat whole fruit, like berries. When you want a decadent treat, get something with stevia, allulose, or other healthy alternatives to sugar.

The power of nutrition

The reason functional medicine focuses on the entire body is that practitioners know that being well is about getting to the root cause of health concerns and then putting natural protocols together to fix the issues.

Nutrition is crucial for your mental health. A poor diet can ruin your mood and leave you feeling despondent. It’s amazing what can happen when you make positive changes and take actionable steps for a healthier mind and body. The connection between diet and mental health is clear, and when you’re ready to empower yourself, we are here to walk with you on your health journey. Contact us today for a personalized approach to healthcare.

References :

https://www.the-star.co.ke/health/2023-03-08-surprising-connection-between-nutrition-and-mental-health/

https://www.jazzpsychiatry.com/blog/the-surprising-link-between-nutrition-and-mental-health

https://primepsychiatrymd.com/the-surprising-link-between-diet-and-mental-health/

https://www.sutterhealth.org/health/nutrition/eating-well-for-mental-health#:~:text=What%20we're%20not%20always,improve%20concentration%20and%20attention%20span.

https://www.healthyagingpoll.org/reports-more/report/addiction-highly-processed-food-among-older-adults

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/vitamin-b12-and-depression/faq-20058077#:~:text=Vitamin%20B%2D12%20and%20other,may%20be%20linked%20to%20depression.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5786912/

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318428#zinc

https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/talking-therapies-medicine-treatments/medicines-and-psychiatry/antidepressants/side-effects/

https://blog.massgeneralbrighamhealthplan.org/you-are-what-you-eat.-the-connection-between-diet-and-mental-health

Dr. Nick Zyrowski
Dr. Nick Zyrowski



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