The secret relationship between food and mental health finally revealed!

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Mental well being

The food we eat determines the health of our body. But did you know, it also determines the better functioning and well-being of our mind? Yes, there is a relationship between food and mental health!

We are already living a stressful life with the added tension of an ongoing pandemic. It is easier to become prone to anxiety and depression. The world realises that the proper functioning of the human body is linked with mental health. 

What is mental health?

Mental Health is a state of well-being in which the individual utilises his/her full potential to work fruitfully and productively, cope with the everyday stresses of life, and contribute to his/her community.

Mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities. It is the way of preserving your ability to enjoy life.

A happy person excited about the future while putting their best in their work, family, and societal responsibilities is an example of mental well-being. Such a person can control the mood fluctuations without letting them affect their normal lifestyle and relationships. 

What can disrupt mental health?

Preserving mental health is a task. We are taught in school and college that health is wealth, so we live a healthy lifestyle to maintain our health.

What we never learned is that health includes both physical and mental well-being. Various factors can disrupt our mental health. A few of them are listed below:

  1. Unhappy Childhood
  2. Traumatic incident
  3. Loss of loved one
  4. Physical ill-health
  5. Toxic Relationships
  6. Violence or abuse
  7. Hormonal imbalance
  8. Unhealthy lifestyle
  9. Socio-economic stress
  10. Nutrient deficient diet

Food and Mental Health (Nutrition)

Nutritional Psychiatry is also referred to as Psychonutrition. It is an emerging field of study that focuses on the effect of diet on mental health.

Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry investigated the effect of nutrition on mental health. The research was focused on how diet affects our hippocampus. The hippocampus is the area of the brain where the process of neurogenesis occurs. The generation of new neurons is called neurogenesis which is directly linked to our mood and cognition. 

Stressful experiences reduce neurogenesis in the hippocampus, while antidepressant drugs have been found to promote this process.

Neurogenesis has linked to psychiatric disorders like – depression, schizophrenia, and cognitive dysfunction, both behaviorally and biochemically. 

Factors that affect neurogenesis negatively include:

  • Highly Processed foods
  • Alcohol
  • High-fat diets
  • High sugar diets
  • High carb diets
  • Constant stress
  • Ageing
  • Drugs

Neurogenesis can be enhanced by :

  • Healthy nutritional diet
  • Physical exercise
  • Release of stress

Foods that help in mental health include:

1. Probiotics- Serotonin is known to be a natural mood stabiliser. 

It is the Happy hormone produced by our gut bacteria. 

Did you know? Our gut is also known as our second brain!

Low levels of serotonin lead to anxiety and insomnia. People with depression often have low levels of serotonin.

Probiotics keep the gut healthy, which in turn keeps the happy hormone levels up!

Below is the list of Probiotic foods:

  • Curd / yogurt
  •  Idli
  • Paneer
  • Pickles
  • Buttermilk
  • Green Peas

2. Leafy greens- If you think that spinach juice in the morning is a waste of time, then think again!

 According to a neurological study, individuals who included leafy greens such as spinach, fenugreek, etc., experienced a slower rate of cognitive decline than those who rarely consumed it. 

All the hype about leafy greens is correct, and if you want to binge, binge on the lush green because they’re worth it!

3. Fish Oil – DHA is an Omega-3 fatty acid that contributes to optimal brain health by improving short- and long-term memory. 

A diet high in Omega 3 fatty acids can also help to boost feelings of mental health and wellness while decreasing anxiety levels. 

DHA can be found in ‘oily’ fish such as salmon, trout, prawns, or fish oil supplements if you don’t like seafood.

4. Whole Grains – Carbs are delicious for a reason, and they don’t have to take a back seat in your diet.

Whole Grains are high in tryptophan, an amino acid that aids in the production of serotonin (also known as the “feel-good hormone”).

 Serotonin aids in the relaxation of the mind, the improvement of mood, and the maintenance of a regular sleep cycle.

5. Walnuts – If you’re looking for a snack that also happens to be good for your long-term brain health, you can opt for a handful of walnuts. They have the appearance of a brain for a reason.

Walnuts are high in antioxidants which helps to prevent oxidation in the brain and body.

They also stimulate the growth of new neurons– in other words, walnuts can help us grow new brain cells, which is an essential aspect of maintaining good mental health.

6. Beans – Every week, include beans in at least four meals—all kinds of beans, lentils and soybeans. 

It is also known as musical fruit, and beans are among the best foods for a happy and healthy brain.

Beans and legumes (chickpeas, lentils, and kidney beans, for example) are high in fibre and antioxidants. And they keep you fuller for longer, keeping your blood sugar stable and allowing you to burn more energy (which, as we know, is essential for good mental health).

Beans also have thiamine, a vitamin required to produce acetylcholine (the neurotransmitter essential for memory).

Conclusion: The food we eat has a significant impact on our mental health. Now we know scientifically how food and mental health is linked to each other. We can improve our memory and other brain functions with proper diet and nutrition up to a level. But for assistance for mental irregularities, one should always choose professional psychological consulting. The above methods are meant for awareness of a healthy mind and well-being.

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Article by Purva Tiwari, MA Psychology

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