Smart, health-conscious consumers know that the food we eat affects our health. What you put into your body has a direct impact on strength, fitness, and stamina, but what about its effect on emotional well-being? The science is in: Food can have a remarkable impact on your mood, energy levels, and even mental health.
Whether you’re clinically depressed or just suffering from a day of winter blues, there’s plenty that you can do to improve your mental health with some judicious meal and snacking choices. Here are our dietary recommendations, based on the latest research in food findings.
First and foremost, a big thumbs up to diets rich in unprocessed fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and the healthy unsaturated fats found in olives, avocado, and other unrefined oils. The so-called “Mediterranean Diet” has been shown to lessen the risk of cognitive impairment and reduce your depression risk by 30%. The same 30% improvement rate in depression and anxiety is seen by people who focus on “whole” foods, even when their diet includes meat.
Fats are one of the biggest contenders in the long-term depression equation. Trans-fats have a clear relationship with depression, so it’s best to stop eating processed foods as much as possible to avoid these unhealthy fats.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, on the other hand, are great mood boosters and they support mental health. You can get these healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil and leafy greens. You’ll find especially potent benefits in fish. In fact, the omega-3 fats in fish oils can fend off psychosis and post-partum depression. They’re also great for your hair, nails, and skin.
Last but not least, berries have been shown to improve long-term memory and to reduce the risk of age-related memory loss thanks to their dark pigments, which protect the brain from oxidative stress and damage.
When it comes to depression, the worst offenders are packaged and fast food, especially when they contain saturated fats or refined carbohydrates like sugar (and all of its alphabet soup derivatives like glucose, fructose, dextrose and high fructose corn syrup). Aside from eliminating processed foods from your diet, moderation is key – especially when it comes to alcohol and caffeine.
Studies have found that low to moderate alcohol intake reduces risk of dementia and cerebrovascular disease, but that the health risks of heavy alcohol use far outweigh its potential benefits. The same is true of coffee, which can lower depression risks by 15% for those who drink 2 or 3 cups daily, but which, in excess, contributes to health problems like high blood pressure.
Although chocolate is well known as a chemical mood booster, its long-term effect turns out to be just the opposite. A 2006 review of the literature on chocolate and emotional health indicates that eating chocolate to boost your mood is actually linked to long-term cycles of depression.
As with anything, moderation and balance are crucial. If you’re concerned about your diet’s impact on your mental health, or if you’d like to speak with a naturopathic doctor about foods that may improve your emotional well-being, contact us today.
Posted: 2013 January 28