Most people are already aware of the link between healthy eating and physical health, especially when combined with exercise. These three things together can have many health benefits, including preventing weight gain, promoting weight loss, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. What’s lesser-known, however, is the link between healthy eating and mental health. Yes, there is a connection there - and a positive one at that! Let’s take a look at how healthy eating improves mental health.
The Second Brain The term “second brain” commonly refers to the relationship between the brain and the gut. See, your gut is filled with bacteria that can directly affect the production of neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine. These are chemical messengers that relay information from the gut to the brain. When you focus on healthy eating, you encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut, which has a positive impact on the production of neurotransmitters. However, if you fill your body with sugary, processed foods on a regular basis, you’re likely going to cause inflammation in the gut, decreasing the production of neurotransmitters. Therefore, eating healthy allows your brain to receive the positive neurotransmitters it needs to keep you feeling happy and mentally healthy. Unhealthy choices, on the other hand, can deprive your brain of these positive messages and have a negative impact on your mood.
How to Eat Healthy to Improve Mental Health So, now you know to stay away from junk food if you want to improve your mental health, but what should you eat instead? Fortunately, there are lots of delicious, brain-friendly foods to help you fill your plate when you’re hungry.
Vitamin D Also known as the “sunshine vitamin”, vitamin D helps produce neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline. Research has linked low levels of vitamin D to symptoms of various mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. You can always increase your vitamin D production by spending some time in the sun (with sunscreen, of course), but you can also try incorporating it into your diet. Eggs, fortified milk, and fatty fish like salmon and tuna are all great sources of vitamin D. If none of those work with your diet, then try taking a vitamin D3 supplement.
Fibre Including fibre in your diet will help you maintain the good bacteria in your gut. Research shows that higher consumption of dietary fibre may reduce the risk of depression and anxiety. Look for fibre-rich foods like whole grains, beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables to add an extra boost of fibre to your meals.
B Vitamins The B vitamins include a wide range of nutrients, like riboflavin, folic acid, biotin, pyridoxine, niacin, pantothenic acid, thiamine, and cobalamin. Though they are important for various processes throughout the body, they play a significant part in the production of neurotransmitters related to mood. In fact, deficiency in cobalamin, or vitamin B12, in particular, has been linked to an increased risk of neuropsychiatric disorders. You can find B vitamins in meat, eggs, whole grains, leafy greens, and legumes. Since animal foods, in particular, are great sources of vitamin B12, vegetarians and vegans may want to include a B12 supplement in their diet.