The body and mind work together and if one of them isn’t doing so well the rest of this incredible machine – also known as the human body – is in trouble. The trouble isn’t always visible, at least not right away, but there are things we can do to prevent a breakdown. A healthy diet and good mental health are very much connected. A healthy diet does wonders for the human body, and that includes that particular organ we often tend to neglect and overload – our brain.
Diet or Lifestyle?
The internet is full of articles about which healthy diets to follow, some of them being fads, others sounding outright crazy (but that is, of course, subjective), and others that are not mere diets but lifestyles. It’s the latter I want to talk about. A diet sounds like something you’d follow or try out for a few weeks or perhaps even months, and then you drop it to go back to your old eating habits.
In that way, a diet can help you achieve your goals, which – in most cases – is losing weight, but how about making a healthy diet a lifestyle without having to sacrifice anything?
When healthy food is mentioned, many of the people I know usually run the other way or mention salad, believing that that is what healthy nutrition implies. Healthy also means more plant-based and that is another term that seems to sound like someone is going to drag you out of Willie Wonka’s exciting chocolate factory and make you enter, at gunpoint, barren, scary and unknown no man’s land.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Let’s get these misconceptions out of the way.
Healthy food, a salad? No. I am not crazy about salads although I sometimes do include them in my meals. Let’s just say, if you’re inviting me for a dinner party and are proudly announcing that you’re going to prepare a salad for me, I will probably eat something before I arrive. 😉
Plant-based is boring and tasteless and you’re going to give up on “real” food? No. Plant-based is in fact very versatile, which is something I discovered when I decided to include more plant-based meals in my life.
How is a Healthy Diet Good for Mental Health?
Compare your body to a car. Your car needs maintenance, because if it doesn’t get maintenance on a regular basis, it will eventually break down and leave you stranded at the side of the road.
If your body does not receive the right sustenance it will also leave you stranded. For some, this happens sooner and for others later, but if your body constantly receives low quality fuel, it will in due course bear the consequences.
Most of us take really good care of our car, because we need it to go to work, drop the kids of at school, buy groceries, etc. We need it for everything. We can’t be without a car anymore, so we make sure it gets its regular upkeep. Our body is also needed for everything. We must also take care of it, so that it can keep on going.
If your car breaks down, it can be replaced, but you only have one body.
How Does it Affect Mental Health?
There are some foods that will leave you feeling heavy and with a desire to rest for a while. Then, there are foods that will fuel you with energy. Instead of laying back in your chair, you will feel like you’re ready to take on the day. You will especially perceive that sensation after you first make the switch to healthier fare.
If your body is filled with energy, so is your brain. There is less chance of depression, because your happiness increases. Of course, if a tragedy happens in life, there is no food that can stop you from crying your heart out, but I am talking about normal circumstances, our daily life.
What Food is Good for Mental Health?
Plant-based, there you have it, I said the dreaded word 😉
- plenty of fruits
- a banana, for example, contains tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into mood-lifting serotonin
- a good amount of vegetables
- dark green, leafy vegetables are particularly protective of the brain
- whole grains
- legumes (beans and lentils)
- omega-3 fatty acids (salmon or other fatty fish, flax seeds, hemp seeds, kidney beans, soybean oil, fish oil, seaweed, algae, walnuts, Brussels Sprouts, …)
- the Mediterranean diet (healthy fats, lean proteins, and natural carbohydrates) – this diet has been linked to better mental health and decreased likelihood of depression)
- Probiotics (kefir, tempeh, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled vegetables)
- Dark chocolate (Isn’t that good news? 😉 )
If you find vegetables boring or tasteless, I recommend you integrate your veggies in more creative ways, for example, a veggie lasagna, veggie pizza, lentil loaf, raw vegan cake or pie with a nut and date base or other raw pie bases, broccoli cream, banana ice cream, cold spinach and avocado soup, etc.
If cooking is not your thing and ordering healthy food may present a challenge because of the items on most fast food menus, I would suggest ordering from this healthy food company (see the photo below) that delivers to your door (only in the US)
What Drinks are Good for Mental Health?
- Water (natural calming properties)
- Freshly squeezed juice (a good way to eat those fruits)
- Tip: add one of the following or all to your juice: blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries (according to a recent study, these fruits may block the chemicals that cause anxiety or depression)
- Green tea (has theanine, an amino acid that provides an anti-stress benefit)
What Foods are not Good for Mental Health?
- Processed meats
- Fried food
- Fast food
- Refined white starches (white bread, bagels, crackers, white rice)
- Refined cereals
- High fat dairy products
- Don’t worry, you don’t have to give up coffee. A small dose of caffeine is fine and can even improve your overall mood, but high amounts of caffeine can cause frayed nerves and anxiety.
What Drinks are not Good for Mental Health?
- One glass of wine is not a bad thing, many even recommend it. One drink can lift the mood, but we are talking about a glass, not a bottle! As we all know, alcohol in excess is definitely not good. Besides the damage on the liver, it also impacts mental health, leading to depression. Alcohol is a depressant …
- An overload of sugar
- Energy drinks
- Since they include caffeine, an overconsumption of caffeine can negatively stimulate the central nervous system, increasing heart rate and blood flow. Like I mentioned before, this can lead to anxiety and depression, but also palpitations and agitation (source: diabetesed.net)
As you can see, healthy doesn’t mean boring at all. It’s just a matter of adapting your diet and/or adjusting to a new lifestyle. Although changes can be a little unsettling, changing to a healthier lifestyle is a change that will positively impact your body and mind.
Just like your car that gets frequent maintenance and high quality fuel, so does your body now. Breakdowns are avoided, for the car and you.
“Let Food be thy Medicine and Medicine be thy Food” – Pythagoras