Better Your Mental Health: The Food-Mood Connection

We know that supporting our mental health is foundational to a healthy life filled with wellness. As we expand on the self-help points from the article Ways to Better Mental Health Drug and Doctor-Free, this week we will discuss some stress-relieving tools and strategies.

We thank Ashley Brewer for her contribution to this article.

Ashley is a recovering addict that lives with a dual diagnosis for Bipolar II. Her mission is to strengthen her own recovery and mental health by sharing her experience, strength, hope and support with other addicts and those in the mental health community. She uses her online resources to reach addicts, (those recovering and those still suffering from active addiction), and their loved ones across the world.

Think about how incredible our brains are!

The brain is always on; working hard to maintain our thoughts, movements, senses, etc… even while we’re asleep. So isn’t it essential to provide our brain with the fuel it needs to continue on a healthy track?

Our brain requires “premium fuel” to operate to its full capacity, so what we eat directly affects our brain, mental health and overall well-being. Science agrees that choosing high-quality foods is a powerful tool in bettering our mental health.

That being said, it’s important for us to avoid ingesting anything that could be considered “low-premium” foods. Diets that are high in refined sugars are harmful to the brain as they promote stress, inflammation and interfere or destroy our body’s natural regulation of insulin. Multiple studies have shown that there is a correlation between diets that are high in refined sugars and impaired brain function, as well as the worsening of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Foods high in preservatives, food coloring and additives may cause or worsen hyperactivity and depression.

The Food-Mood Connection:

Not only do the foods we eat affect our mood and mental health, when we eat is also a major factor. Unhealthy eating habits can negatively alter our mood and emotional well-being.

The connection between diet and emotions stems from the close relationship between your brain and your gastrointestinal tract, often called the “second brain”.

Here’s how it works:

Our GI-tract is home to billions of bacteria that influence the production of neurotransmitters; chemical substances that constantly carry messages from the gut to the brain. Eating healthy food promotes the growth of “good” bacteria, which positively affects neurotransmitter production. A steady diet of junk food, on the other hand, can cause inflammation, which hinders the production and function of neurotransmitters.

When our neurotransmitter production is in good shape, our brain receives positive messages loud and clear and our emotions reflect it. When our neurotransmitter production goes awry, so does our mood. Poor gut health can increase inflammation, pain, anxiety, and depression and it can negatively affect sleep patterns.

Below Are Three Examples of Unhealthy Eating Habits:

  1. Refined Carbs

A high-intake of processed carbohydrates can cause blood sugars to rise and fall at a rapid rate leading to low energy or irritability.

  1. Eliminating Entire Food Groups

When we reduce the variety of food groups in our diet, it makes it much more difficult to obtain the necessary nutrients our bodies need. Eating foods with low levels of Zinc, Magnesium, B-Vitamins, and Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with worsening moods and low energy.

  1. Skipping Meals

Skipping meals, especially breakfast, can lead to low blood sugar which in turn, will lead to feeling weak and tired.

Although there is still much to learn about the effects of dietary patterns on mental health issues, evidence suggests that eating a healthy diet can have a protective effect. In fact, many believe that good nutrition is as important to mental health as it is to physical health.

So, where to begin?

Here Are Some High-Quality Food Choices:

  1. Foods High in Antioxidants

These inflammation-fighters are especially plentiful in berries, leafy green vegetables, turmeric and foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and black-chia seeds. Dark chocolate also contains antioxidants, and sugar so indulge in moderation.

  1. Fiber-Rich Foods

Plant-based foods are full of fiber, which helps our body absorb food sugars at a slower pace and helps to avoid the “sugar-rush-and-crash” effect. Fiber-rich foods include fruits, vegetables and nutrient-rich healthy carbs like whole grains and beans.

  1. Whole Foods

Focus on clean, real food. Think fruits and vegetables.

  1. Magnesium-Rich Foods

Magnesium is an essential mineral for the “food-mood connection”.  Mineral deficiencies can harm or destroy the bacteria in your gut and cause depression and anxiety-like symptoms. Load up with natural sources such as dark chocolate, cacao nibs, almonds and cashews, spinach, dark leafy greens, bananas and beans.

  1. Protein-Rich Foods

Fish is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, so it is a good option. Eating fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and herring will not only increase protein-intake, but also DHA levels; an important component of Omega-3 that reduces inflammation and risk of chronic disease. Chicken is another option, but chose organic, cage-free, or free-range. Beans and nuts are also protein-rich. Think soybeans, leaks, quinoa, chickpeas, lentils, peas, kidney beans, almonds, sunflower seeds and peanuts to name a few.

  1. Probiotic-Rich Foods

We now know that our gut is our “second brain”, so we must keep it healthy. Focus on foods that are rich in probiotics; Greek yogurt, kefir, kombucha and pickled vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi. These foods also tend to be high in sodium, so consume them in moderation or skip them altogether if you have high blood pressure.

  1. Foods High in Iron

Lo- iron is the leading cause of anemia, which is associated with fatigue, depression, apathy, brain fog and irritability. Over 10 million people world- wide suffer from anemia.  Increase  iron-intake with red meats, shellfish, iron-fortified cereals, egg yolks, nuts and beans.

Here’s to bettering your mental health full circle!

– Ashley

Stay tuned for the next part of this series this time next week where WU World Changer Jennifer Whitacre shares how to Better Your Mental Health and Sleep!



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