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Numerous social inequalities directly effect human mental health, including poverty and poor physical health, among others. These factors have been shown to interact in a complex manner with nutrition to cause or accelerate mental disorders.
The quality of food you eat has a direct effect on your mental health, says experts. To put it more directly, eating quality food can help you live a happier and more fulfilling life.
The connection between nutrition and mental conditions such as depression is not as clear to many people as is the one between nutrition and physical wellness. Indeed, Sathyanarayana Rao, Asha M.R., B.N. Ramesh, and K.S. Jagannatha Rao published a study that proves that nutrition has a considerable effect on the duration and severity of depression.
Also, studies on the food patterns of people living with conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and bipolar disorder depicts a severe lack of certain nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids, and minerals in the diets.
Do you need more proof of the relationship between diet and mental health? How about this recent article that reports on the findings of a study of young adults in an Appalachian college? The researchers concluded that improving students’ access to quality foods could enhance their welfare and mental health!
One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined wellVirginia Woolf
The human brain is perhaps one of the most ‘tired’ parts of the body. It is always functioning, whether you’re asleep or awake.
It controls your breathing, movements, thoughts, senses, heartbeat, mood, and so forth. Such a hardworking organ undoubtedly requires an unending supply of good fuel. The human body functions just like a car. The better the quality of gasoline, the better it performs and the longer the engine lasts. Similarly, the quality of food you eat affects the function and structure of your brain, which ultimately affects your mood.
Good food usually contains essential minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, which nourish your brain prevent oxidative stress. On the contrary, poor quality diets, such as refined and processed foods, impede the body’s natural ability of self-regulation. Those high in sugars, particularly, have been found to cause impaired brain function and deteriorated mood disorders.
It is for this reason that nutritional psychiatrists are increasingly adopting alternative or integrated approaches to the treatment of mental disorders by prescribing certain foods and supplements.
Unfortunately, mainstream medicine has failed to acknowledge these approaches. Instead, it has remained stuck in national guidelines that recommend antidepressants and therapies.
The use of antidepressants has increased two-fold in the past decade. Statistics show a worrying trend among medical practitioners, that is treating socially-caused conditions by merely dispensing a drug. Even more worrying is the fact that continued use of antidepressants among young people did not alleviate their suffering. Instead, it caused them to feel suicidal.
Increasing cases of mental disorders, especially in developed nations, is partly attributable to the dependence on processed foods, which do not provide most of the fundamental nutrients required for optimal brain function.
Recent studies have explicitly shown the importance of nutrients. For instance, the administration of magnesium citrate supplements in people with depression and anxiety resulted in significant improvement, regardless of sex, age, or severity. The deficiency of omega-3 has also been associated with poor comprehension, low moods, and cognitive decline.
Felice Jacka found that women who ate foods rich in vegetables, fish, fruit, moderate quantities of red meat, and whole grains were less likely to develop anxiety disorders or depression than those who consumed the predominant Western foods, such as pizza, sweet drinks, fries, and burgers.
So, what should you eat to improve mental health?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ 2015-2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a well-balanced diet should contain generous amounts of vegetables, fruit, law-fat dairy products, lean protein, whole grains, and limited quantities of added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat.
A separate study conducted in 2017 reported the mental health benefits of a Mediterranean diet over a three months period, including reduced levels of anxiety and depression, high moods, minimal negative emotions, and an overall better quality of life.
Specifically, eating large proportions of vegetables is associated with an increase in positive emotions as well as decline in anxiety, depression, and negative emotions. Moreover, eating more fruit could help you live happier, build better relationships, improve mental health, and enhance your overall quality of life. These findings are particularly significant among children and adolescents.
Helpful Tips: Think Self-Control
Focus on eating only as much as your body requires. The goal is to get satisfied, not stuffed to the brim. Eat even what you do not feel like eating. Ultimately, your body requires a balance between fats, fiber, vitamins, proteins, minerals, and carbohydrates. But this does not necessarily mean avoiding the foods you like, such as pizza, fries, and bacon, so long as you take them in moderation.
Smaller proportions of ‘harmful’ foods can help you reduce your cravings, rather than avoiding them all together. Top up these proportions with larger ones of leafy vegetables or fruit. It takes time to master this discipline but it will be worth it in the long term.