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Link Between Nutrition and Mental Health

Learn about the relationship between nutrition and mental health and the benefits of a healthy diet.

Overview

We all know that diet impacts different aspects of our physical health, such as weight and the risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes. But what if we told you that diet could also affect our mental health? Recent studies in nutritional psychology and nutritional psychiatry are emerging, finding connections between dietary patterns and mental health.

For example, a meta-analysis examining twenty-one studies revealed that people who consume primarily fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy, and antioxidants were associated with a decreased risk of depression. In contrast, diets primarily consisting of red meat, processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes, and high-fat gravy were associated with an increased risk of depression.1

Here, we will take a closer look at the link between nutrition and mental health and how improving dietary patterns may help with mental illness.

Nutrition and Mental Health

What Is the Link Between Nutrition and Mental Health?

The function and structure of the brain are influenced by the availability of proper nutrients, including vitamins, lipids, amino acids, and minerals. Scientists inferred that since brain function is dependent on nutrients, nutrition can be considered a factor in mental health, mood, and cognitive performance.

Impact of Nutrition on Brain Function and Wellness

Research shows some concrete links between deficiencies of various nutrients and brain function. For example, vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to poor memory, fatigue, and depression. In addition, multiple studies found that synthetic food color additive elimination and free fatty acid supplementation decreased symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by up to 40% in one-third of children.2

Furthermore, there is a link between the central nervous system (brain) and the enteric nervous system (guts), which is where a significant amount of the body’s serotonin (a neurotransmitter that regulates mood) is produced. Low levels of serotonin can cause mental illnesses like depression.

Can Good Nutrition Improve Mental Health?

Providing the brain with the right food is important to keep some mental illnesses at bay. Good nutrition for mental health can be compared to the positive effects a healthy diet has on physical health. 

A new field called nutritional psychiatry has evolved to learn more about the potential psychological advantages of good nutrition on mental health. Some of the most compelling research in this field shows a link between a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, fish, and low-fat dairy with a lower risk of depression and anxiety and improvements in cognitive function.

How Does Eating Healthy Affect Your Mental Health?

Studies on nutrition and mental health tell us that eating healthy can increase positive thinking, focus, and attention and reduce mood fluctuations. Eating healthy foods packed with vitamins, nutrients, and minerals helps the body produce antioxidants that can help combat oxidative stress, increasing brain function.

Common Foods That Enhance Your Mental Health

Making informed choices to protect and improve mental health begins with knowing the right nutrition for mental health. Below includes some of the best foods for mental health. 

Carbohydrates

According to food and mental health studies, diets lacking in carbohydrates (e.g., whole grains) tend to cause depression since carbohydrate-rich foods stimulate the production of tryptophan and serotonin (brain chemicals associated with feelings of happiness).3

Proteins

Mental health and nutrition researchers have found that proteins can help enhance the production of essential neurotransmitters that can prevent and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. Some of the best protein foods for mental health include eggs, beans, and organic animal products. 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to a healthy diet for mental health as they can help relieve depression. Salmon, one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, is a great choice in a diet for anxiety and depression. 

Vitamins

Vitamins provide antioxidants that help eradicate oxidative stress and free radicals, which can precipitate certain mental illnesses. Some of the best vitamins for mental health include:

  • B-complex vitamins
  • Vitamin B12
  • Folate

Minerals

Mental health and nutrition studies suggest that minerals are essential in brain function, hence essential to keep your mental health healthy. Deficiencies of essential minerals can cause mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression.

Some essential minerals recognized in diet and mental health studies include:

  • Calcium
  • Chromium
  • Iodine
  • Iron
  • Lithium
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

Other Foods

Fermented foods, garlic, and turmeric have been found relevant in studies on mental health and diet to help prevent and treat various mental disorders. 

Important Tips to Improve Your Mental Health With Nutrition

Here are some tips to help you improve your mental health:

  • Eat regularly
  • Stay hydrated
  • Consume plenty of healthy fats
  • Have healthy snacks
  • Stick to a healthy shopping list
  • Never shop while hungry
  • Share meals with your loved ones

Mental Health Conditions That Are Related to Nutritional Deficiency

Your diet and mental health have a direct relationship—if you eat healthily, your mental health is improved and vice versa. However, if you neglect your diet, you may develop some nutritional deficiencies, which may cause the following mental health conditions: 

Eating Disorders

Deficiencies in zinc can increase the risk of developing an eating disorder called anorexia. One of the symptoms of zinc deficiency is reduced appetite, which may play a role in the onset of anorexia. Eating a balanced diet and foods rich in zinc can help prevent the condition. 

Depression

Numerous studies on mental health and food by researchers in neuropsychiatry suggest that nutrition and depression are undeniably linked. For instance, one study found that 32.3% of patients with major depression placed in a diety support group during treatment achieved remission compared to 8.0% of patients placed in a social support group.4

The best diet for depression includes dark leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and fish.

Stress

Stress may be caused by a deficiency of essential minerals like magnesium, B vitamins, and iron. 

Anxiety

Deficiency of vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, selenium, and iron are some of the key nutritional deficiencies that may cause anxiety. Preventing anxiety involves eating a balanced diet with all the essential nutrients present. 

Get Treatment for Mental Health Conditions at Alta Centers

One of the most prevalent health concerns in the U.S. is mental disorders. Managing these conditions without help may not yield the best results, making it important to seek guidance from mental health professionals

Alta Centers offers evidence-based treatments and programs for a variety of mental health disorders and concerns. Our experienced and highly qualified team provides support and personalized treatment plans to ensure each individual receives the care they need for a successful recovery.

Common Mental Health Programs

Mental illness treatment at Alta Centers involves the following treatment programs:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Contingency management intervention
  • Family therapy and family support
  • Motivational enhancement therapy
  • Educational sessions
  • Recovery oriented skills
  • Breathwork and meditation

Does Insurance Cover Mental Health Treatment?

Health insurance plans typically cover services for mental health and drug use disorders. However, if you want to be sure your insurance covers mental health treatment, Alta Centers offers a free insurance check. You will get information on the coverage and other options upon submission of our form. 

Nutrition and Mental Health

Contact a Mental Health Professional at Alta Centers

Alta Centers will provide you with a personalized treatment plan based on your needs to help you restore your mental health and maintain recovery. Contact a mental health professional at Alta Centers today. 

Call 888-202-2583 now to speak with a representative.