You’ve probably heard the saying, “You are what you eat,” or perhaps you’ve heard the common adage used in the fitness world: “Abs are made in the kitchen.” Your diet is linked heavily to the way you look, the way you feel, and how well your body functions – and that includes your brain. For instance, too much caffeine or sugar may give you a short-term boost, but inevitably, your body suffers from the resulting crash that leaves you feeling sluggish, foggy-headed, and exhausted.
It goes beyond just how you’re feeling in the moment, however. Healthy and clean eating are linked to depression and anxiety in that consuming a healthy diet rich in clean, whole, nutrient-dense foods can help you fend off not only colds and infections, but also mental health symptoms and disorders like depression and anxiety. In other words, healthy and clean eating isn’t just good for your body; it’s also good for your mind.
To learn more about the link between clean and healthy eating and mental health, including depression and anxiety, we reached out to a panel of nutrition professionals and mental health experts and asked them to answer this question:
“What’s the link between healthy & clean eating and depression & anxiety?”
Meet Our Panel of Nutrition Professionals and Mental Health Experts:
● Jen Mayo
Read on to learn what our experts had to say about the link between clean & healthy eating and depression & anxiety.
Jamie Hickey is a personal trainer and Nutritionist at Truism Fitness.
“The correlation between anxiety and depression and healthy eating is as simple as…”
When you’re not eating a healthy diet, you know you’re not doing the best for yourself, and this causes mental anguish. Americans know how to be healthy, but it’s easier to ignore it than to actually put forth the effort.
There is also a direct relationship between how you feel and what you eat. There have been many times when I will eat a heavy meal and feel like crap the rest of the day (especially if it’s fast food).
Uma Naidoo MD
Michelin-starred chef David Bouley described Dr. Uma Naidoo as the world’s first “triple threat” in the food and medicine space: a Harvard trained psychiatrist, Professional Chef graduating with her culinary school’s most coveted award, and a trained Nutrition Specialist.
“Many people don’t realize that what we eat also impacts our emotions and mental well-being through the gut-brain connection…”
The gut and brain arise from the same cells when our bodies develop and then are connected by the vagus nerve, which acts like a two-way superhighway between the gut and brain, allowing for the two-way movement of chemical messages. These chemical messages are impacted by what we eat. Many people call serotonin the happiness hormone – but more than 90% of serotonin receptors are found in the gut!
Research has proven that in a single day we can change our gut microbiome by the foods we eat. Our microbiome is mostly unique to each of us and is made up of about 39 trillion microbes living there to help us. But eating unhealthy junk foods can help the bad microbes thrive and set up conditions such as inflammation and leaky gut.
Eating fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and legumes will help feed those microbes with the fiber they need to be nurtured. By feeding ourselves clean, healthy foods, we are therefore feeing our gut microbiome what it needs to thrive.
Jared Heathman, MD
Jared Heathman, MD is a Psychiatrist in Houston, Texas.
“There is an old saying that says you are what you eat…”
Now that I think about it, this phrase is both literally and figuratively accurate. We derive all of our building blocks and nutrients from what enters our body. As our body tries to maintain homeostasis, it is depending on us to provide the correct ingredients. Total energy requirements are the bare minimum.
Our body, and specifically our brain, requires a complex set of molecules to be provided in the right amounts. Our gastrointestinal system helps to regulate the uptake of the correct nutrients, but it isn’t perfect. If we absorb too much energy from our meals, we push our body into a rest and relaxation state regulated by the parasympathetic branch of our nervous system. This can cause fatigue, sluggishness, and sadness after the initial rush of energy is consumed by our body’s attempt to manage the sudden large influx of glucose. We become less productive, which can lead to getting behind on deadlines. A less effective version of ourselves – one that gets behind – will promote anxiety.
Certain foods like vegetables and protein help to regulate the speed of energy absorption from our gastrointestinal system to pace our body and brain. Each day is a marathon, not a sprint. Carbohydrates and fruits provide a speedy energy burst, but this burst is not sustainable. Even if we tried, our body would alter our response to this diet to protect itself. Nutrient deficiencies, over-eating, and the pacing of our food intake can influence our body and subsequently our brain’s ability to function at optimum performance. Anything less than optimum performance can lead to various symptoms that contribute to physical and mental ailments.
Tiffany Allen, FNP-C, WHNP-BC
Tiffany Allen is a nurse practitioner and founder of Triad Lifestyle Medicine, where she uses nutrition as a tool to treat, improve, and reverse many chronic health conditions.
“Stress and anxiety affects everyone…”
But many suffer from the symptoms of stress and anxiety, or even depression, worse than others. For some, medication is necessary. But for everyone, there are self-empowering, natural tools that can be used for stress and anxiety management. These tools can include trained / focused breathing, meditation, yoga, stretching, massage, fitness, chiropractic care, acupuncture, time management, counseling, and nutrition. Today, we want to speak to that last tool of nutrition.
Why is nutrition an important part of stress and anxiety? Because an unhealthy gut cannot properly absorb nutrients. And the brain uses many of the nutrients to produce serotonin and other hormones that regulate mood – and affect our body’s response to stress and anxiety. So if you are injuring or inhibiting your gut’s abilities, you are limiting your brain’s ability to deal with stress and anxiety.
Here are some simple nutritional guidelines to follow if you are suffering from stress and anxiety.
Here are the foods to avoid or consume with careful moderation if you are suffering from anxiety. These foods do not CAUSE anxiety, but they can make symptoms worse and certainly don’t help your body to deal with symptoms:
- Caffeine: This is a stimulant that can trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response (sympathetic nervous system) which can exacerbate anxiety. Also, caffeine can make people more jittery or nervous, which leads to an increase in anxiety. Caffeine also affects sleep, which in turn increases anxiety symptoms.
- Artificial or refined sugars: Sugar does not cause anxiety; however, it makes the symptoms of anxiety worse. It inhibits the body’s ability to cope with stress. A sugar crash can cause mood changes, heart palpitations, etc. Artificial and refined sugars can also lead to inflammation or imbalances in the gut. Consumption of refined sugars also causes blood sugar spikes and drops, which can directly affect mood. The rush creates a sugar high with lots of energy, and then the low leads to a sluggish feeling.
- Alcohol: While okay in moderation, alcohol in excess, or for some any at all, can worsen the symptoms of anxiety and even depression. It negatively affects the levels of serotonin in our brain. Alcohol consumption can also cause dehydration and depletion of important nutrients.
It is also important to remember to eat regular meals to prevent hypoglycemia, which can exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
Here are the things TO DO and the foods you SHOULD eat to help your body respond more effectively to symptoms of stress and anxiety:
- Eat a balanced diet full of fiber (vegetables, fruits and healthy whole grains) and healthy fats (nuts, olive oil, avocados, olives, fresh fish, etc.).
- Cut back on sugar and processed foods.
- Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol (if you want to consume caffeine or alcohol, try to limit it to one serving).
- Eat foods rich in B vitamins, such as green leafy vegetables. B vitamins are directly involved in the creation of serotonin.
- Research shows omega-3 fatty acids can help with mood issues. Look for omega 3s in fish, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seed, etc.
Caitlin Self, MS, CNS, LDN
Caitlin Self graduated with her MS in Clinical Nutrition from Maryland University of Integrative Health. She spearheaded the nutrition program at a mental health center in Baltimore City and works with clients to heal from gastrointestinal disorders, mental health issues, and chronic dieting.
“The evidence for the connection between nutrition and mental health, especially anxiety and depression, is growing as we learn more about these important fields…”
Gut Health & Serotonin:
We know that there is a bi-directional relationship between the gut and the brain, and 70% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut. Serotonin is your calming, feel-good neurotransmitter. Many medications such as Lexapro work to regenerate serotonin in those who are dealing with anxiety or depression, and some view anxiety and depression as a deficiency of serotonin.
However, success can come from improving overall gut health so the body can naturally produce adequate levels of this important neurotransmitter. This is where nutrition plays a major role. The two most important connections between gut health and food include:
- Supporting a healthy ecosystem for healthy bacteria to thrive. You can do this by consuming a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
- Providing a steady stream of beneficial bacteria by consuming small amounts of probiotic foods like sauerkraut and kimchi on a daily basis.
We also have a growing number of food sensitivities in the US, which cause severe inflammation in the gut and can damage the ability to produce serotonin. Identifying food sensitivities can help the gut heal – and once healed, you can often reintroduce those foods safely.
One of the major causes of unmanaged depression is actually nutrient deficiencies. Clients who have had unresolved depressive symptoms for over two years are often suffering from nutrient deficiency – specifically B12 and B9.
But B12 isn’t just about making sure you’re getting it from your diet. There are conditions that affect the body’s ability to absorb B12 and medications that block our ability to break it down. Additionally, B12 needs B9 in order to be utilized appropriately, so these should be supplemented together. Even if you eat animal meat, you may still be suffering from a B12 deficiency. Supplements aren’t always the answer. It’s important to check stomach acid, the type of supplement you’re taking, and work with a provider to make sure you’re getting exactly what your body needs.
Blood Sugar Imbalances:
One of the first signs of blood sugar imbalance isn’t prediabetic blood work – it’s ‘hanger’ and irritability. Many cases of anxiety are actually the result of poorly managed blood sugar – even in healthy, nondiabetic patients. We see this a lot in people who eat really small meals, skip meals frequently, eat carbohydrate-heavy or sugar-heavy meals, have a long history of dieting, or fast for too long.
Balancing your blood sugar can be as simple as establishing an eating schedule with three to four eating times a day and ensuring you have fat, fiber, and protein with every meal or snack. I always recommend starting here.
Dr. Rae Mazzei
Dr. Mazzei is a Health Psychologist and owner of a private practice in the Phoenix, AZ, area. Her treatment specialties include anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma, and health conditions. She utilizes health psychology to treat the behavioral issues associated with medical conditions.
“What we eat has a direct influence on how we feel emotionally…”
Nutritional psychology is the study of the complex interaction between nutrition and our mental state. Research has found that eating a healthy diet contributes to improved psychological well-being. On the contrary, the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is high in sugar, simple carbohydrates, and overly processed foods, can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety. These emotions result not just from the food but also from how we feel after consuming a poor diet. Guilt, shame, and frustration often accompany eating unhealthy foods.
If you are struggling with a psychological disorder already, your dietary intake may exacerbate these issues. Consumption of vegetables, fruits, clean protein, and complex carbohydrates are the best choices to optimize your mental health. Eating a well-balanced diet may reduce the need to take psychotropic medications, which have been known to have unwanted side effects. Counseling, high-quality sleep, and regular exercise are also important to treat psychological problems.
Jason Wilkinson is a Marriage Family Therapist Registered Intern in the state of Oregon. He has a private mental health practice, Wellspace Counseling, located in Tualatin, Oregon.
“When we are not feeling good about ourselves or circumstances, we go to food for comfort…”
Consuming certain foods, however, will often lead us to greater feelings of guilt or shame – often underlying emotions for depression.
Foods containing the antioxidant flavonoid anthocyanin (apples, blueberries, etc.) and omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, almonds, etc.) can help to reduce inflammation in the body – including the brain – and the risk of depression and anxiety.
Foods filled with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, and advanced glycation end products (processed meats) are believed to create inflammation in the body. While we may get a short burst of satisfaction, these foods eventually leave us feeling unhealthy, bloated, and impact the brain’s ability to process information and feel healthy. This impacts emotional and mental health.
Lisa Young, PhD, RDN
Lisa Young, PhD, RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim and adjunct professor of nutrition at NYU who inspires her community to make healthy food and lifestyle choices.
“There is a link between diet and depression and anxiety…”
A diet composed of whole foods including fruits and veggies, unprocessed whole grains, and seeds and nuts, with lean proteins like beans and fish is ideal. There is also promising research about including omega 3s for depression – salmon, walnuts, and flaxseeds are good examples.
Promoting gut health is also important, so fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut are great. One should limit ultra-processed foods with added sugars or refined white flours, and minimize processed meats.
Dr. Cali Estes
Dr. Cali Estes, Ph.D., ICADC, MCAP, MAC CPT, CYT is a #1 best-selling author and a highly sought-after Celebrity Coach, Counselor, Life Coach, Transformational Coach and Wellness Guru who blends talk therapy with forward and positive change to assist her clients in unlocking their true potential.
“Certain foods can cause depression or anxiety in different people…”
Usually, sugar and white flour will make you feel good for about 20 minutes and then BAM! Your body crashes and you feel irritable, depressed, anxious. Most therapists will attribute this to a mental disorder, when in fact it is the eating habits that are the issue. Clean eating will almost always reduce anxiety and depression.
I had a client who was depressed and said she wanted a divorce. I made her keep a food journal so that I could track what she’s eating and when and figured out that she ate great for breakfast and lunch, but at 2 PM she was eating two Boston cream donuts from Dunkin’ Donuts every day. By the time she left for work at 4:30 she was irritably depressed, tired, and didn’t want to go home. She attributed leaving work and going home with a negative home environment when that was not the case. After we cleaned up her diet, removed the two Boston cream donuts and replaced it with something healthy like peanut butter and an apple or a handful of nuts or a banana and cinnamon, she reported that within five days she was feeling fantastic. No depression, no anxiety, and not wanting a divorce.
That’s just one example of a client I have worked with and gotten on the path of clean eating only to find that depression, anxiety, and mental health symptomatology has abated. We are living in a time when we are not associating food with our mental health, and we should be. A lot of our food is full of GMOs, pesticides, preservatives, and even things like soy and sugar that should not be in there. These items will affect you not just physically but will also affect your mental state, and if you go to the traditional mental health therapist or psychologist, they will want to put you on medication as opposed to reviewing your diet.
Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD
Sabrina Romanoff is a Harvard trained clinical psychologist. She currently works at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, in New York City. She has expertise in severe and persistent mental illness, mood disorders, complex trauma and its impact on personality structure and pathology, with focus on attachment, family systems, psychodynamic psychotherapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy.
“Certain foods can exacerbate anxiety symptomology…”
Items high in caffeine and sugar can intensify anxiety symptomology by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and sympathetic nervous system activity. They keep your body in fight or flight mode. And in turn, people may increase dependence on these foods to provide comfort in the interim, only to maintain inflammation and stress in the brain.
Improving self-respect through food choice
Hunger is one of our most primitive needs. The choices we make with our food are loaded with much more than just satiating hunger. They also relate to how we care for ourselves, what we choose to fuel our bodies with, and ultimately our self-respect and care for ourselves in the long run. Your body is the most precious and useful tool you will ever have in this lifetime, so treat it as such. Self respect is more than how we allow others to treat us and how we treat ourselves; it also relates to how we regard our bodies.
Jen Mayo is a Holistic Health Coach and Graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
“The link between clean and healthy eating and depression and anxiety largely relates to the gut brain connection…”
Essentially, all health starts in the gut. If gut health is compromised, brain health will be compromised. Dr. Mark Hyman had a great series called Broken Brain that really explored the intricacies of how the gut and brain impact each other. Also, leaky gut and leaky brain go hand in hand. If you can fix gut flora imbalances and leaky gut, you can rebalance the whole body, especially the brain.
Neurological health, though, also impacts gut health. People who have experienced trauma of any kind, including psychological and emotional trauma, often have digestive issues related to an always-on stress response that pumps out continually elevated levels of stress hormones, particularly cortisol, that impede gut function and microbial balance.
It is a two-way street. The nervous system needs to be healthy to maintain a healthy gut, and the digestive system needs to be healthy to maintain a healthy brain. There is only one state of disease in the body: imbalance. The goal of any health efforts should be homeostasis rather than just treating symptoms. The symptoms will subside once the body is brought back into balance.
Jack Anderson is the founder of Sport Fitness Advisor, a leading fitness and sports science blog. He trains athletes regularly and is a fitness expert, strength and conditioning specialist, and sports nutritionist. He has a degree in Sports Science and has been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of people from very different ends of the fitness spectrum. Since early 2001, he has researched and published scientifically-backed exercise tips and training plans on Sport Fitness Advisor.
“In the last few decades, research around the mind body connection has exploded…”
We are still learning more and more about this area all the time – and some things are still unclear about this connection. There is one thing that is clear: the health of the mind and the health of the body are intrinsically connected.
Gut health is a subject that has recently gotten a lot of attention, especially regarding how it affects our mental health. Did you know that there are more nerve endings connecting your brain to your gut than there are nerves connecting your brain and spinal cord? There have also been studies correlating the rise of autoimmune disease with issues concerning gut health. None of this is a coincidence, seeing that over 70 % of your body’s immune system lies inside the gut.
Improved diet has also been linked to improved mood and an overall more stable sense of mental health, which kind of makes sense if you are aware of the connection between brain and gut. So, what does an ‘improved’ diet look like? The short answer is simply, more plants. Plants are the only food we eat that contains fiber. Only 3% of Americans get enough fiber each day, and even that 3% could stand to consume more. The gut microbiome literally feeds off of fiber. There are trillions of bacteria in your gut, and they all want fiber. Diversifying your plant intake is key here. Try out a range of new plants to satisfy the good bacteria in your gut, and you may see mood improvement over time.
Kathy Gregory is a Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) coach with First Mile Care, a Silicon-Valley based preventative chronic care company. She is a holistic health and wellness coach and a nutritionist certified through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
“Identifying the key triggers for your eating can help you understand the true message your body is trying to tell you…”
Are you eating when you’re tired, bored, frustrated, anxious, sad, or happy? You may find that you’re eating when your emotions tell you to eat rather than when your body tells you, or that your mood is affected by hunger. Think of being ‘hangry,’ when you’re grumpy-angry because you’re hungry.
When you’re feeling stressed or depressed, it’s normal to crave unhealthy, high-calorie treats. Since the COVID-19 shutdown, grocers have seen a surge in demand for sugary cereals, frozen pizza, mac and cheese, salty chips, and other processed ‘comfort foods.’ Unfortunately, stress-eating can become a vicious cycle as fat and sugar only increase the likelihood of depression and anxiety, which then cause you to want more junk food to stave off your dark mood. But keep in mind that just as unhealthy food can contribute to depression, healthy food can boost your mood.
Keeping a food journal is an effective tool in adjusting your behavior. Not only does food journaling track the calories you consume, but it also reveals trends and patterns in your eating habits. It highlights the foods and beverages you most often consume, how much is healthy versus unhealthy, and the link between what you eat and your emotional state.
Chris Norris is the Managing Editor at SleepStandards.com.
“As a mental health expert, I must say that food affects your mood…”
Eating good food promotes the production of good bacteria in the GI tract and affects the neurotransmitters that carry messages to the brain. Eating foods high in sugar feeds the harmful bacteria in the GI tract – resulting in a sudden increase in the production of neurotransmitters, the reason behind the “sugar rush” – and is not suitable for your health.
Continuous eating of junk foods hampers the making of the neurotransmitter that affects your mood negatively. Feed your GI with good food. By doing so, you are helping the neurotransmitters to send clear and positive signals to the brain that will result in positive emotions.
Girish is a Digital Marketer, Self Taught Psychologist, and Author of Maroon In A Sky Of Blue.
“The contribution of diet and nutrition to our mental health is very sophisticated and is yet to be fully uncovered…”
Scientists have not yet found the existence of a particular nutritional factor that increases or decreases depression and anxiety. But it has been found that our diets can contribute to the prevention, development, and management of mental health disorders.
The primary relationship of the food we eat is with our mood. Unhealthy eating habits can lead to mood swings. This happens because junk food can cause rapid blood sugar fluctuations and nutritional imbalances that cause erratic behavior in us. Our minds and bodies need a steady source of nutrients to function well.
For example, if you skip meals, especially breakfast, it can cause low blood sugar. This will make you feel weak and tired, which ultimately leads to isolation and unproductivity. This can lead to mental health issues. In order to reduce weight, some people tend to cut out some food groups. In order to get all the essential nutrients you need, there should be variety on your plate. Low levels of iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, Vitamin D, magnesium, etc. are known to cause worsening mood and decreased energy.
Also, overeating or eating too many complex or processed carbohydrates such as white bread, sugary foods, etc. can cause blood sugar levels to increase and decrease rapidly. This can cause low energy and irritability. While occasional unhealthy eating habits are harmless, when the body is nutrition deprived continuously, it can lead to mental disorders. Depression and anxiety are often related to the lack of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. When the brain doesn’t receive enough fuel for optimal functioning, it fails to produce such hormones. Researchers have also found that some people with depression had extremely unhealthy diets, and many of them had eating disorders.
Dr. Laura Louis
A licensed psychologist, Dr. Laura Louis is a widely sought-after international speaker specializing in helping couples press the reset button after infidelity. Her signature five-step training program, Marriage Matters, has helped over 5,000 couples reawaken their connection to build better and stronger relationships.
“In my experience as a licensed psychologist and the owner of Atlanta Couple Therapy, I find that eating habits are usually a direct representation of our mental state…”
Eating reflects one’s mental health. Oftentimes, when we are especially stressed or anxious, this can be seen through our eating habits. Whether we’re overeating, undereating, or binging on junk food, it’s very telling of our feelings. Hence the phrase, ‘Eat my feelings out.’ So, focusing on a healthy diet can be beneficial to your overall mental health.
Lisa Richards is a nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet. She has been featured on Today, US News, Women’s Health magazine, Huffington Post, Healthline, the San Francisco Chronicle, Reader’s Digest, Lifehack, Insider, and Well+Good, among others. Through her website, she explains the benefits of a low-sugar, anti-inflammatory diet.
“The gut’s health impacts all areas of health, including our mental health…”
Inflammatory foods can both lead to and exacerbate depression by causing an imbalance in gut bacteria. Choosing to eat clean can help mitigate these concerns. Vitamin C is well known for its immune boosting capabilities, but it is as effective at boosting your mood, as well.
Vitamin C is essential for making dopamine and serotonin, which enhance mood and prevent depression symptoms. Some surprising foods that contain vitamin C are broccoli, papaya, bell peppers of all colors, sweet potatoes, strawberries, and tomatoes, to name a few.
Trista Best is a Registered Dietitian at Balance One Supplements, an Environmental Health Specialist, and Adjunct Nutrition Professor.
“Certain foods can worsen and trigger anxiety…”
Refined carbohydrates like those found in sugar-laden foods such as pastries and convenience foods can trigger a state of anxiety in several ways. These foods cause a quick rise and fall in blood glucose, which leads to mood and hormonal imbalance. These foods also leave us feeling hungry more quickly, which can cause anxiety. Refined carbohydrates are also inflammatory, and an ongoing state of inflammation is known to cause mood and hormonal changes, as well.
Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugar such as pastries, processed convenience foods, enriched bread, refined pasta, and many sugar-based cereals. Rather, it is important to opt for whole grains that the body processes more slowly and provides a steady insulin:glucose balance to prevent glucose highs and lows.
Kerry Heath, LPC-S, NCC, CEDS-S
Kerry is a Licensed Professional Counselor in both Arizona and Virginia as well as a National Certified Counselor. Kerry treats eating disorders of all ages and genders and has earned the distinction of Certified Eating Disorders Specialist (CEDS). She has a master’s degree in Marriage & Family Therapy and thoroughly enjoys working with couples and families. She is also a writer for mental health startup, Choosing Therapy.
“One of the most important things to do when struggling with depression or anxiety is to engage in self-care…”
Self-care includes things such as getting enough sleep, engaging in regular exercise, and eating well-balanced meals and snacks. A lack of adequate nutrition can lead to mental health issues and exacerbate existing ones. We are faced with countless messages concerning the importance of proper nutrition and weight management. This can lead some to believe that dieting, skipping meals, and eliminating certain foods from their life is the answer. These behaviors can make matters worse when it comes to mental health.
It is important to define what is meant by ‘healthy’ when discussing our diet and preventing or improving depression or anxiety. Healthy is consuming an adequate amount of energy in the form of nutritionally dense and palatable foods. We achieve this through eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, dairy, and fats, along with the occasional treat that we enjoy.
Moderation is the key when it comes to consumption of all food groups. Too much of anything can be detrimental, while not enough can lead to health issues, as well. Complete elimination of food groups is not helpful, despite what popular trends suggest. Allowing oneself to indulge in treats now and again can prevent binge behaviors or overeating, which can lead to depression and anxiety.
Eating at regular intervals also prevents dips in energy and prevents disrupted sleep due to hunger. Lack of energy and disrupted sleep are both symptoms and causes of depression and anxiety. If a person does not have energy to attend to the activities of daily living or to socialize, depression can worsen. Lack of sleep can contribute to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, as well.
Sarah Johnson is a Clinical Therapist and a Health Ambassador at Family Assets.
“There is a link between healthy food and mental health…”
Eating healthy food can help avoid anxiety or depression. Healthy foods include fruits, fish, vegetables, etc. On the other hand, processed foods are not suitable for health for three main reasons:
- They contain high amounts of sugars.
- They are full of bad fat.
- They damage your health.
When you commit to a healthy eating routine, you stay away from processed food, and there are no mood fluctuations. Because of this, healthy eating also helps you in lowering anxiety or depression.
If your intake of refined sugar is higher, it will interfere with brain functioning. In the case of continuity of the same routine, the condition may worsen with severe mood changes or depression.
Consuming fermented food such as yogurt helps in the growth of natural bacteria in the human gut. It increases happiness in people, helping to decrease stress or anxiety.
If you want to live a stress-free life, stay away from fatty foods, processed meat or fried food, candies, refined sugars, pastries, or high-fat dairy products as they make people anxious. A high fiber diet containing a mix of fruits, fish, and vegetables is essential for a good mood and good life.
Heather L. Donahue, CHN
Heather is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist who writes on her blog, Heather’s Health Habits.
“Food does affect your mood…”
Depression and anxiety can be reduced and/or relieved by eating clean, whole foods. Serotonin, the happy chemical, is produced in the gut. When we eat processed foods that are devoid of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, our gut is not supplied with the nutrients necessary to support a good mood.
The gut and the brain are linked via a communication highway. Research shows that the brain is highly dependent on the information the gut sends it. The gut is not dependent on the brain. When the gut is bogged down with foods that are processed and full of chemicals, it sends signals to the brain that affect our feelings. We feel moody, sad, depressed, anxious, and stressed because the gut cannot find nutrients to be healthy. Eating a variety of clean, whole foods helps the gut send positive signals to the brain, allowing us to feel happy, relaxed, and calm.
Jinan Banna, PhD, RD
Jinan Banna, PhD, RD and founder of Jinan Banna LLC, is an Associate Professor of Nutrition at the University of Hawaii. She is also a registered dietitian. Her research interest is in obesity prevention. Through her business, Jinan offers free information on her blog, as well as nutrition coaching.
“The gut influences mood and mental health, and a healthy diet helps to promote a healthy gut…”
Diets rich in plants support the gut microbiome and overall health. Plant-based diets have also been shown to reduce inflammatory markers and to have an inverse relationship with depression and other mood disorders. Conversely, a diet high in processed foods can increase inflammatory markers. Diets low in antioxidants may similarly promote inflammation. It is important to note that inflammation is a key factor in depression and other mood disorders.
There is also a link between consumption of certain types of foods and mood. Intake of refined sugars, for example, has been linked to depression and anxiety. Similarly, low intake of omega-3 fatty acids has also been linked to mood disorders. With a focus on whole foods, it is easier to be sure we are consuming enough of what we need to keep the brain healthy and prevent depression and anxiety.
Shanon Henry is a Psy.D. working for EzCare Medical Clinic, which offers walk-in and online healthcare services that include weight loss, stress, anxiety, depression, and ADHD/ADD treatments and diagnosis.
“Diet is such an important component of mental health that it has inspired an entire field of medicine called nutritional psychiatry…”
A dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy, and antioxidants, along with a low intakes of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy, is associated with a decreased risk of depression.
Dr. Ericka Goodwin
Dr. Ericka is one of the nation’s top board-certified Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrists. She is a Harvard-trained traveling physician, and she has her own private telepsychiatry practice. She is a volunteer faculty member at Morehouse School of Medicine and is also an integrative life coach, best-selling author, and international speaker.
“There are numerous links between clean eating and depression or anxiety…”
One link is that unhealthy eating often makes you sluggish, which is not a good feeling on its own. In addition, this sluggishness may lead to an increase in sedentary behavior, because who wants to exercise when they feel tired? The decreased activity and increased unhealthy eating, including junk food or processed food, can lead to weight gain, which is even more probable due to elevations in stress hormones, such as cortisol. Weight gain never made anyone feel energized or sexy. More often, people feel sadder or on edge because they don’t like the way they look and even may be less social, leading to isolation.
Alessandra Kessler is the Founder and Blogger at Healthy Body Healthy Mind.
“A few years ago, there was no concept of diet and mental health being related, but…”
Recently there have been studies that show the two concepts might not be that far apart. Initially, researchers lacked solid evidence to prove any connection, but now that the topic is being researched worldwide, we know that diet quality is directly related to common mental disorders.
A large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health. A healthy diet is protective, and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety, according to Felice Jacka, president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research.
Although there is no direct evidence that a poor diet leads to mental disorders, it is a fact that a healthy diet can improve brain health by:
- Boosting brain development.
- Changing brain proteins and enzymes to increase neurotransmitters, which are the connections between brain cells.
- Increasing good gut bacteria. This promotes a healthy gut biome, which decreases inflammation. Inflammation is known to affect both cognition and mood.
- Raising serotonin levels through various food enzymes, which improves mood.
A study conducted in 2017 found that the symptoms of people with depression improved when they received nutritional counseling sessions and ate a healthier diet for 12 weeks. Selenium, vitamin D, antioxidants, zinc, vitamin B, etc. are some examples of elements that you should consider in your diet to improve your mental condition.
Obesity is another factor that leads to depression. Obesity, too, has a lot to do with your diet; it is just another way that diet can impact your mental health. Foods that you should avoid if you have mental disorders include alcohol, caffeine, processed oils, and refined foods.
Amanda Levison, M.S., LMHC, LPC, CCBT
Amanda is a licensed professional counselor from Neurofeedback & Counseling Center in Harrisburg, PA.
“Taking care of oneself is not always easy, but those who take care of their mental health and physical health typically lead a healthier and happier life…”
When one struggles with feelings of depression and anxiety, it can lead to unhealthy eating, and eating unhealthy foods can cause depression and anxiety, which means we often reach for unhealthy foods to comfort us. This behavior pattern can lead to a vicious cycle with various consequences, such as making one feel tired and sluggish. However, this immediate relief does not last long and can cause other issues like weight gain and long term health problems.
To stop the adverse effects of this cycle and cravings of these foods, one needs to stop eating them. The best solution to maintain mental health is to stick with healthy foods that promote well-being. Some tips include staying away from sugary, processed foods, consuming healthy fats, eating healthy snacks when hungry, planning for grocery trips, making healthy shopping lists, and practicing mindful eating.
Mindful eating might include turning the TV off while eating to avoid overeating, not replacing meals with coffee or other drinks, and concentrating on how full you are getting. Aside from how food affects your brain, the way the food affects your appearance can affect your mental health. Striving to eat a well-balanced diet can make you more fit and feel healthy.