Is Nutrition Affecting Your Mental Health?
We often think of all the different things that could be affecting our mental health… a bad day at the office, problems at your child’s school, and all of life’s various stressors. A factor we normally don’t consider is how the food we eat can also have an impact on our mental health. All of us have used food to cope at some point. Whether we are feeling sad, bored, or excited, many people turn to food to handle those emotions, but how are the food choices we make also guiding our emotions?
What is mental health?
Mental health is the overall well-being of any given person. It affects us emotionally, socially, and physically often more times than we realize. Emotional mental health is the one we recognize the most because it is clear how it manifests when we are upset through our feelings and down moods. Socially we may want to isolate ourselves and avoid social interactions, or we may not feel totally present when being social if we are experiencing poor mental health. Physically we may feel tired, sluggish, and sometimes even sick with GI distress or headaches, and like we cannot keep up with all we have to do during the day.
How nutrition plays a role…
Nutrition plays a significant role in our mental health. 60% of our calories tend to come from processed foods which can affect our mental health and gut microbiome tremendously. The gut and brain are connected through a nerve called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve has a few different functions, but regarding mental health, people with a healthy gut and strong vagus nerve find it easier to relax after stressful events. To keep a healthy gut, you need to eat a variety of nutrient dense foods, like fruits and vegetables, consume pre and probiotic foods, and limit alcohol use. Consuming high calorie foods that are low in vitamins and minerals will not benefit our gut health and can have an impact on our mood.
Disordered eating patterns often stems from emotions and negative moods. Unfortunately, when we use food to cope, we do not typically go for the more nutritious option, so it is important to be aware of how eating the low nutrient, processed food, might not be helping us in the way that we hope for. The best way to avoid disordered eating and poor food choices that may worsen a person’s mood is to learn new ways to cope, like meditating, journaling, going for a walk, or seeking professional help.
Here are other ways disordered eating effects our overall health:
- Frequent dieting, anxiety associated with specific foods or meal skipping
- Chronic weight fluctuations
- Rigid rituals and routines surrounding food and exercise
- Feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating
- Preoccupation with food, weight and body image that negatively impacts quality of life
- A feeling of loss of control around food, including compulsive eating habits
- Using exercise, food restriction, fasting or purging to “make up for bad foods” consumed
We are often unaware of the habit of emotional eating and how it can have a worst effect on our mental health.
There has also been plenty of research on cortisol levels and insulin resistance. Cortisol is the stress hormone. Cortisol is released with physical and psychological stress. Cortisol’s main function is to increase energy availability for a short amount of time. Cortisol releases sugar into the blood, but it also causes weakened insulin output. Therefore, you are left with high blood sugar. This is the same reaction that occurs in type 2 diabetes. Having this response long term due to stress may increase a person’s chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
How a dietitian can help:
Speaking with a Registered Dietitian can get your brain and mental health back on track, but to start here are some nutrients that help improve mental health:
- Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio
- Anti-inflammatory spices
- Healthy fats
- Polyphenols/ flavonoids
- Fermented Foods
A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) is the food and nutrition expert. Our expertise is to translate the science of nutrition into practical solutions on your plate that help you gain control of your health. We give you a compassionate and personalized experience, building a program for you, not fitting you into a diet.
Medical nutrition therapy provided by an RDN is typically a covered benefit on your health insurance plan. There is no silver bullet for any one disease or for overall health, but remember nutrition is foundational to health and immunity. Don’t ever underestimate your power to transform and restore your health. Bon Appetit!
If you are interested in working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to improve your health, contact us at The Nutrition Professionals at 480-294-6543.