• Nina

Food And Your Mood: Can Diet Impact Mental Wellness?

Updated: Mar 7, 2021

*not an expert, just sharing my researched-findings as a conversation-starter :)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I firmly believe that our mental, physical, and spiritual well-being are entirely connected, and that a healthy, happy lifestyle requires a balance of all three. Both scientific and anecdotal evidence suggests that our mental and emotional wellness are directly impacted by our physical health and the way that we treat our bodies; studies have suggested for a long time that moving your body regularly and participating in exercise increases serotonin levels and can be a catalyst for overall healthy-habit development. Regular movement improves cardiovascular health and boosts your stamina so that you have more energy to do your daily activities, it can help you get a deeper sleep, and may increase overall confidence (according to the Mayo Clinic).

But what about the food we eat?

Can diet impact mental wellness? Food is your brain’s fuel; the cliché “you are what you eat” exists for a reason, but it is only just recently in scientific history that researchers have begun to prove that this applies not only to your physical health, but your emotional wellness, too. The link between diet and emotional health has been a topic of discussion for decades; there is still much more investigation left to do in regards to proving how the scientific evidence aligns with this conjecture, however, studies are beginning to reveal that there is indeed a connection between the food we nourish our bodies with, and our mental wellness.

vegan cherry banana smoothie bowl

Evidence suggests a correlation between a “high quality” nutritional diet and mental health

If you are interested in reading the full review that I’ll be quoting today, visit this Science Direct link for “Nutritional psychiatry: Towards improving mental health by what you eat.” The research team of this review concludes that their studied evidence suggests a clear connection between nutrition and mental health, “...several studies have reported strong correlations between a healthy diet and mental well-being, which can help to inform future recommendations on diet (Dinan et al., 2018). For example, increased consumption of a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables has been associated with increased reported happiness and higher levels of mental health and well-being”. They reiterate that more research must be conducted in order to fully understand the causation and mechanics of this correlation, however, their evidence suggests that there is in fact a clear connection between our mental wellness and the food we eat on a regular basis.

A prime focus of this review was diet-intervention, to see if improvements would be made to a person’s mental health if they were to alter their diet. The “healthy” diet they chose as their standard was one that was high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and fish. Referenced studies suggest that this diet improved the mental health of subjects who suffer from depression. In addition, referenced studies also suggested that a high-quality diet throughout a person’s lifespan positively impacts cognitive development and health from the early stages of life and in adulthood. There are more connections to be made and science needs to take an in-depth look into how these correlations exist so that we are able to better utilize diet as a tool for improving mental health conditions and emotional wellbeing in the future.

So, just another case for why you should ditch the processed foods and opt for ones with higher nutritional quality.

Anecdotally, I can say that my emotional health and my dietary habits coincide; when I am eating more whole foods and fewer frozen dinners, I’m usually much more energized and willing to complete my daily activities. Maybe it’s simply the mental action of knowing that I’ve taken care of my body that inspires me to keep the ball rolling through the rest of my day; whether it’s that or a genuine chemically-scientific response, I know that this is a pattern that exists for me, so I like to put in the effort to make sure that I am getting a well-rounded, nutritionally-rich diet of mostly whole foods.

I like to make most everything myself when I have the time; it’s typically cheaper to buy ingredients and cook / bake your own foods, you know exactly what’s going into it, and it’s likely to be significantly healthier than the more processed, premade versions of foods at the grocery store. See my article on Healthy Eating on a Budget to learn how to incorporate more whole foods into your diet without hurting your wallet. Cooking is fun! I find that cooking everything myself makes my mealtime more satiating, as well. Meal-prep if you'd like to save yourself some time during your busy week, or make a point of cooking every day as a fun activity.

As a vegan, my diet is plant-based, so I always make sure to supplement a multivitamin in addition to getting in a wide variety of whole foods in order to cover all of my nutritional bases. That doesn’t mean I don’t eat vegan pizza ever, I definitely do indulge myself here and there. While there are absolutely endless ways to create delicious, satisfying meals using primarily whole foods, I of course still indulge in the occasional boxed vegan mac or Beyond Burger; it takes time and balance to create a healthy relationship with food, but for me, balance means that I don’t entirely eliminate my ability to enjoy those types of foods.

Bottom line: taking care of your body = taking care of your mind, so feed yourself the good stuff

As I said before, in the same way that exercising your body improves emotional health, evidence is emerging that eating healthily does the same. Be kind to your body, and see how your brain responds.

Have you noticed a link between your emotional patterns and your diet? How do you feel when you’re eating fewer processed foods? Let’s talk in the comments!

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