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We all know that food is essential for keeping our body healthy and developing properly. What most people aren’t aware of is that nutrition can impact mental health and well-being as well. It’s not much of a surprise, considering that food provides us with the building blocks for every organic system, including the nervous system. Those looking to improve their mental health need to pay attention to elements in their diet.
There’s a Growing Field of Research Behind it
The idea that food can affect mental health is a relatively new one. Nutritional psychology, as a science, has barely been noted before the past few years. Studies have been done that tackled the effects of certain supplements like vitamins and good fatty acids on mental well-being, but not much else was researched. However, this field has seen rapid growth and more and more studies have been published about the overall effect of nutrition on our mental health.
The past few years have given way for a wealth of information on the topic. Well-conducted studies have covered the link between diet quality and mental disorders and come to some interesting conclusions. There’s a lot of information to go by, but the gist of it is that our diets affect mental and physical health. A healthy diet is seen as having a protective effect on our mental health.
There’s a lot of research that goes into the role of food allergies in various mental health issues. The studies focus more on issues such as depression and schizophrenia in these cases.
There Are Several Ways That Diet Affects Our Minds
The saying goes that we are what we eat. It’s not too far off from the truth, considering that food provides the building blocks for every organ in our body, including our minds. If you don’t get the right nutrients, the mind and body can’t develop properly. There’s no period where this is more apparent than during childhood and adolescence.
As we grow and develop our bodies, our brains demand a lot of energy and nutrients. There are many issues that can arise from a lack of specific micro and macronutrients. Protein, fat, and carbohydrates are used to build the cells that make up our brains, but in somewhat different proportions compared to other organs. There’s a disproportionately larger percentage of fats in our nervous system, as nerves are coated in myelin, which is pretty lipid-rich. Protein is necessary for every kind of development, as it makes up the enzymes that are used for a variety of different processes in brain cells.
When it comes to brain development, nutrients aren’t just going along for the ride. They can actively stimulate processes that further develop the mind and increase nerve synapse formation. Omega-3 fatty acids and zinc are examples of stimulating nutrients. They can kickstart the formation of nerves in specific parts of the brain, causing positive changes. This is one of the reasons zinc is always a recommended supplement for those who suffer from depression. It’s not completely understood how these substances cause stimulation, but there’s definitely a mediator between the ingested nutrient and the end result.
A Healthy Gut Stabilizes Our Mood
Having a stable and nutritious diet helps create a healthy balance of bacteria in our gut. These bacteria are essential for digestion and they make sure that absorption is kept to a maximum. In the past few years, there has been a lot of research done on the impact of these bacteria on our physical and mental health.
There are trillions of bacteria in our gut, and their role isn’t just to help with digestion. All the good bacteria take the resources available and prevent the growth and spread of harmful bacteria. This keeps the gut healthy despite containing a very diverse palette of both good and bad bacteria. By fending off the bad ones, the less-harmful bacteria prevail and are used to strengthen our immune system. Doing this keeps the immune system well trained and reduces inflammation all over the body.
B vitamins are crucial for maintaining good mental health. What we don’t get from food is produced by the good bacteria of our gut, meaning that they play an essential part in our nutrition. Some of the substances that good bacteria produce directly stimulate the gut nervous system and tell our brains to feel good. It’s an effective way to signal whether one’s diet is good or not, but people aren’t always aware of the cause of these issues. It’s a complex system that needs to be researched further, as good bacteria seem to be very important for overall health.
Unfortunately, these effects go both ways. Bad nutrition can lead to the prevalence of harmful bacteria, which has consequences on our digestive system, as well as mental health. With a lack of these essential substances produced by good bacteria, issues like anxiety, depression, and inflammatory diseases can start manifesting themselves.
Fermented Foods Decrease Anxiety
Speaking of a healthy gut, the way food influences our microbiome isn’t so cut and dry. The effects that you might feel after changing your diet depend on the type of food you’ve introduced. Some foods are more effective at replenishing the microbiome than others, and there is a multitude of ways that different foods can affect your gut bacteria.
Fermented foods are generally considered very good for gut health. They often contain live cultures of helpful bacteria that become immediately available. Examples include yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and many others. A balanced gut biome releases substances that affect the gut nervous system and stimulates the production of anti-stress hormones. This means that consuming these foods on a regular basis can reduce anxiety and might even alleviate symptoms of depression.
Homegrown Veggies Are Richer in Nutrients
Hobbies like gardening are great for mindfulness and mental well-being all on their own, but gardening provides a tangible benefit – homegrown food. It seems that the benefits from gardening go even deeper, as homegrown fruits and vegetables are considered healthier than their store-bought alternatives.
The reasons for this might surprise you. The most obvious difference between store-bought veggies and homegrown ones is that you probably wouldn’t find too many pesticides or herbicides on the ones you grow. You get to decide what substances end up on the fruit, as it’s your garden. The soil plays a big part as well. It’s a lot easier to feed a small patch of soil in your garden compared to countless acres in commercial farming. This often means that homegrown food is a lot more nutritious, especially when it’s not treated with any particularly damaging substances.
While it may seem counterintuitive, cleaning produce too thoroughly is disadvantageous. The soil is often rich with healthy bacteria that can contribute to the gut biome. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t clean your produce. Those who grow in their backyard won’t be using any strong chemicals to clean their fruits, which means it will remain naturally healthy, even after a thorough washing.
Well-being Can Be Improved in the Kitchen
It’s not just the type of food we eat that affects our minds. There’s also how we prepare it for our meals. Processed food is often stripped of essential nutrients, leaving it slightly less nutritious than something that’s seen less industrial processing. You have to eat a lot more of this kind of food to get the nutrients your body and mind need if they even contain them. This leads to increased weight and problems with self-esteem. Not to mention, not preparing the food can also affect how you view it and how you eat.
The less processed the foodstuff is, the better. People often underestimate how much less nutritious white rice can be compared to brown rice. Taking the shell out of the equation reduces the fibre content while also removing B vitamins. This leaves you more vulnerable to deficiencies and, in turn, your mind will lack essential building blocks. The lack of fibre messes with the digestive system, disrupting the gut biome. Yet, people are quick to buy the cheaper alternative instead of sticking to brown rice.
The preparation process helps keep nutrients more prevalent in food. Something that’s been processed, dried and canned will have less taste and fewer nutrients, even when you cook it alongside something else. Aim to get as much fresh food as you can, since it contains the purest form of the product. Anything that’s grown relatively close to your city will be relatively cheap, but it might require preparation.
Instead of buying frozen vegetables and fruit juice, opt to get fresh versions of the products. Create your own fruit juice and make mixtures of vegetables for your meals. They’ll be more nutritious and you will feel a sense of accomplishment when you cook your food. When you can fully enjoy your meal and appreciate the time it took to make it, it’s going to make you feel a lot better.
A Proper Eating Schedule Helps With Sleep
Sleep is an integral part of our day. It helps give our mind rest and it prepares us for the day ahead of us. With the ever-increasing burden of work and school on our shoulders, sleep has become something people often neglect. Sometimes, this happens due to the impact of food. The time at which we eat can influence our sleep schedules and exacerbate problems of insomnia and sleeplessness.
When you stay up late to work or finish assignments, the body starts producing cortisol, which is the stress hormone. This often leads to late-night snacking under the hormone’s influence, causing people to eat a wide variety of unhealthy foods to sate their late-night munchies. Eating lots of sugar and carbs leads to a spike in insulin, which causes you to be drowsy. This isn’t good news for your work, and it only makes it harder to focus, causing even more stress. It starts a vicious cycle that only leaves you more exhausted and stressed out than before.
If maintaining a regular sleep schedule isn’t an option, keeping your eating habits in check would be the next best thing. When you feel hungry at night, try not to load up on carbs or eat any heavy meals. If your stomach starts working overtime, it’s going to disrupt your sleep when you decide to get some shut-eye. Stick to healthy and nutritious options that aren’t too hard on your digestive system.
Lots of fitness enthusiasts drink a bit of bedtime protein before hitting the sack. Having an easy and readily-available source of amino acids helps rebuild muscle fibres and doesn’t overload your digestive system. It’s a healthy option that won’t disrupt your sleep or focus, leaving you with the option to go to bed when you need sleep.
Mindful Eating Promotes Digestion
How fast you eat might not seem like a big deal, but it can affect how you digest and enjoy your food. Teeth don’t just grind up the food you eat and make it a lot easier to swallow, they are an essential part of the digestive process. When you properly chew your food, your stomach and intestines don’t have to put in a lot of work to extract nutrients. Otherwise, digestion is made less efficient.
Slowly eating your food will make a slight change, but it won’t make a significant impact on your mental state and wellbeing. Mindful eating, on the other hand, might just be capable of this. Enjoying your food and all the tastes that are associated with it can significantly improve the way you feel about your meals. You can turn eating into an experience akin to meditation, which is just a structured form of mindfulness.
Put yourself in a relaxing and stress-free environment whenever you eat. This will help you get a better grasp of the taste of your food and it will lead to more enjoyment. Savor every bite and make sure you chew it thoroughly. It’s going to increase your appreciation for cooking and the ingredients that are present in the food. Mindful eating will help you better discern what’s good for you and what isn’t. When you can taste every bit of the food you eat, it’s likely that you will appreciate healthy and natural food more than processed versions. This helps keep your diet healthy and improves your mood along the way.
It’s hard to argue against the impact of nutrition on our health. The mountain of research done in the past few years has shown that the food we eat affects how we feel and how we think. Having adequate nutrition helps your mind develop and stay healthy, which is why it’s so important to pay attention to how, when, and what you decide to eat throughout your day.