What role does diet play in good mental health?

A vital role! Research has found that what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.

Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress — the “waste” produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage cells.

Your brain has difficulty getting rid of substances that come from processed or refined foods. Diets high in refined sugars, for example, promote inflammation and oxidative stress. Research has found a link between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and a worsening of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Many studies have also found that eating a healthy diet increases good bacteria in your gut, and a healthy gut is linked to better brain function and mood.

Fats in the diet are also an important consideration. Our bodies need fats – to help us absorb vitamins, and for our brains and nervous systems to function properly.

However, some types of fats (e.g. artificial trans fats, partially hydrogenated oil, vegetable shortening), can cause serious conditions such as heart disease and cancer. High levels of these fats can also reduce production of the feel-good chemical serotonin in the body, leading to depression, anxiety and memory problems.

Good fats, on the other hand, can lower the risk of disease, and can strengthen brain cells and regulate mood. Good monounsaturated fats include Olive, Sesame and Avocado Oils. Products containing essential fatty acids include Flaxseed, Hemp and Walnut Oils. Healthy natural saturated fats include Coconut Oil. These can be used for cooking, salad dressings, marinades, drizzling, baking and dipping. Ensure you include good fats in your daily diet to optimise brain health and mood.

And it’s not just what you eat that can affect your mental health. Caffeine, found in tea and coffee, triggers the release of adrenaline, the “fight-or-flight” hormone associated with increased energy. Drinking too much can increase anxiety and nervousness. It can also decrease serotonin production in the brain, causing a depressed mood.

In addition, consuming too many sugary soft drinks can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, which in turn can trigger feelings of worry, irritability, and sadness.

The role of diet in achieving optimum mental health is a large and complex topic. You may wish to read more about healthy diets through books available at the Calm Store. It may also be beneficial to consult your GP or a Nutritionist if you require additional guidance.

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