How Does Diet Affect Our Mental Health?

Although we don’t know the exact recipe for eliminating anxiety from our lives completely, there is plenty of evidence showing the impact of our diet on our mental health.

A review of 21 studies found the typical Western diet, consisting of processed foods, high-fat food and limited fruits and vegetables had an increased frequency of depression. On the other hand, these studies showed diets rich in fruit and vegetables, low-fat dairy and limited amounts of animal products, such as the Mediterranean diet, to have a reduced frequency of depression. The Mediterranean diet in particular reduced the prevalence of depression by 32%.

Foods and Nutrients That Have An Impact

There are many foods and nutrients that play a role in maintaining our mental health, including magnesium, B vitamins, probiotics, amino acids. These nutrients have different roles within the body, but all contribute to maintaining our mental health. For example, tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is used in the production of a neurotransmitter called serotonin, which plays a role in mood regulation. Alternatively, legumes are a great source of protein and fibre which reduce blood sugar spikes which can affect our mood.

One nutrient, in particular, stands out when discussing our diet and mental health — Omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Mental Health

Omega-3 fatty acids have a direct effect on brain health by increasing the production of serotonin. In particular, a study from 2011 found that medical students that had increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids displayed a 20% reduction in anxiety.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in salmon, dark green leafy vegetables, and nuts, particularly walnuts, which not only have a beneficial effect on the brain but are also a good source of protein and help to maintain blood sugar levels.

Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in a wide variety of foods and can be incorporated into any diet. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, dark leafy vegetables, and nuts (especially Walnuts!). Some examples of vegetables that are high in omega-3 are:

    • Brussel sprouts,
    • Spinach
    • Kale
    • Watercress
Walnuts are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids which support our mental health.

The Takeaway

When depressed or stressed out, we tend to one of two things — overeat or under-eat (check out this blog post on stress eating!). What matters here, is that we eat food that can help our body. Eating balanced meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables, and packed with nutrients is essential to combating anxiety and depression, and maintaining our mental health.

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