Food is just as important for our mental well-being as it is for our physical health

For millennia healers have advocated food as medicine, but now, mental health professionals are starting to realise that a healthy diet of fresh, unprocessed foods can also bring psychological, as well as physical benefits.

Eating a variety of fresh foods, consuming fewer processed foods and identifying foods you are allergic to – all seem to yield multiple mental health benefits.

Our choice of meal affects not just our energy levels, but also our mood and concentration. For people dealing with mental health issues, a healthy diet can even be a path to lower reliance on medication and enhanced functionality. Here are three ways that foods affect the way you feel.

1. Good foods = good moods

Foods to prevent illness

What we eat most definitely seems to affect how we feel. More and more medical research is bringing up links between mental health and dietary choices. The research has identified the link between conditions like depression, ADHD, Schizophrenia, anxiety, stress and dementia to a lack of nutrients like omega-3, zinc, iron, folic acid and Vitamins.

Other scientists have also suggested that using processed sugars, calorie-dense foods, and having a high fat diet is one of the lesser discussed culprit in causing and increasing mental health problems. Some foods like white meat, nuts, brown rice and greens are more helpful particularly when battling mood issues.

It’s not always about what you just ate. Often, the impact of the food we eat builds up over time; so that mental health is compromised when we eat more processed foods than fresh produce as a rule. Our brains need a little bit of everything to stay happy and fit. Fats, sugar, protein, veggies, and fruits all play their role. Even fermented foods like soy and yoghurt, and the fiber from wholemeal breads and grains are crucial in becoming and staying healthy.

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Does this mean that our favorite treats need to stay out of our plates? Not necessarily. Processed goodies have their place in making us happy. But eat them too often; and the upswing after a doughnut will most definitely be followed by a crash as the body tries burning off the excess sugar.

2. Healthy food makes you smarter

Eating healthily ensures smooth functioning of the brain, activates the brain’s ability to form new connections and strengthen pathways. This means that the brain works smarter and more efficiently. Foods like fruits, vegetables and fish provide the building blocks for brain cells; and are crutial in the production and repair of these cells.

People who eat balanced diets that emphasise fruits, vegetables and fish tend to do better on mental tasks at all ages; but this effect is most pronounced in the early and late years of a person’s life. For young children, eating brain boosting foods encourages brain growth and development, improves attention and concentration and can even boost their IQ scores. At the other end of the scale, older adults who eat more brain foods tend to have fewer troubles with mental tasks; and are less likely to be troubled by problems with memory and thinking.

A quick round up of brain-friendly things to eat includes greens, healthy oils, fish, nuts and seeds, red wine, berries and fruits, and whole grains.

3. The gut is your second brain

healthy-gut

Our gut makes and uses a lot of the same neurotransmitters that our brain needs to regulate mood and cognitive functioning. It’s not surprising then, that a healthy gut does lead to a healthy mind. We can enhance mental processes by maintaining a healthy gut; and in consequence, a healthy body.

A healthy digestive system relies on a variety of friendly bacteria which are typically found in probiotic foods (There was never a better reason to dig into your favourite fresh yoghurt).

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For some people, identifying a previously unknown food allergy or intolerance can provide immediate relief – from both, physical and mental issues. Intolerance to certain foods can lead to conditions like the Celiac disease (in which people have difficulty digesting gluten).

A stressed out digestive system corresponds to a vast range of mental health issues; although there is some confusion about whether the mind troubles the gut, or vice versa. But what we do know is that when we stop eating the foods that we are intolerant to; there are improvements in mental health as well.