Healthy Diet, Good Mental Health

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.

Healthy Diet Good Mental Health

Diet or Lifestyle?

The internet is full with 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?

week of bowls

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 gun point, 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. Personally, 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. πŸ˜‰

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.

car
photo by ryan-de-hamer-on unsplash

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.

happy-alone

What Food is Good for Mental Health?

Plant-based, there you have it, I said the dreaded word πŸ˜‰

  • 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
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • 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? πŸ˜‰ )

chocolate

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)

organic vegan meal

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)

green tea

What Foods are not Good for Mental Health?

  • Processed meats
  • Fried food
  • Fast food
  • Sugar
  • Refined white starches (white bread, bagels, crackers, white rice)
  • Refined cereals
  • Candy
  • High fat dairy products
  • Caffeine
    • 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.

no alcohol

What Drinks are not Good for Mental Health?

  • Alcohol
    • 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 …
  • Soda
    • 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)

healthy

Final Thoughts

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

14 thoughts on “Healthy Diet, Good Mental Health”

  1. Hello there, thank you so much for sharing this. this is a very awesome piece and a very detailed one. I’m really happy I came across this.  Reading about this article healthy diet good mental health sounds really interesting. Like they say health is wealth. And it’s also advisable to eat healthy meal

    Reply
  2. Hey,

    I love this article because I too believe a healthy diet is good for your body and your mental health too. I am working a lot harder on eating healthy, but I do slip and eat not so healthy foods too. Usually when I am feeling down and depressed, when at that point I should be eating foods that boost me.

    I love that your first food on your healthy foods list is a banana because I have two bananas a day, one at breakfast and one at lunch. They have been good for me.

    2021 is going to be a different year for me regarding what I eat and drink. I am working on cutting out alcohol for good. It gets in the way of things and I can’t have that if I want to achieve my goals this year.

    Thank you for sharing such an inspirational article as always and keep up the great work.

    Have a Safe and Happy New Year,

    Tom

    Reply
    • Hi Tom,

      Cutting out alcohol is a wonderful new year’s resolution πŸ™‚ And it’s great to hear that you are also eating healthy. I think it’s ok to slip once in a while, it happens to the best of us, right? As long as we stay on track, that’s what matters. πŸ™‚
      Happy New Year!

      Reply
  3. This is so timely to read Christine!
    I have started the New Year and was looking for healthy energy so am pleased to have found your website. I am also so please that I don’t have to give up chocolate! I try only eat the dark chocolate 70% Cocao and lowest sugar I can find.

    I know coffee is bad – it causes you adrenals or cortisol to flush or something and can be draining. I also feel that when I drink it – that is not a long term sustainable energy and health source. Also I look at people who are long term coffee drinkers and almost always I don’t like the outcome – what I see e.g. overweight or otherwise not healthy or energetic.

    Otherwise your article is really helpful and reminds me of all the good foods and drink to take and the bad food and drinks to avoid. I think this is not just mental health but impacts on overall health like – body acidity/alkaline mix, inflammation in the body and energy levels.

    Thanks for the great healthy tips!

    Reply
    • Hi John,

      True, it is not only good for your mental health, but your overall health in general, keeping your acidity and alkaline levels balanced and staying in shape. Too much coffee is indeed bad, one cup is ok, but I know some people who drink coffee all day long and in the longerm it has definitely negative consequences. When you drink it, it can give you a little boost, but it’s as you say, the boost doesn’t last long. It’s a good thing that dark chocolate is a better energy source πŸ™‚
      Thanks for stopping by today!

      Reply
  4. You’re right. I need to start thinking of my body like my vehicle. Even though it’s more expensive, I absolutely insist on using premium fuel. I never miss a scheduled checkup at my dealership. My body tends to get that which is easiest to prepare, prepackaged, or leftovers (sometimes days old). I don’t know what the plant-based stuff, though. This red-blooded American male craves a good steak, now and then.

    Reply
    • Hi William,

      If you like to eat healthier, you could try to add plant-based food into your diet gradually and have a few steak days in between. I hope that helps too πŸ™‚ Give your body some premium fuel as well πŸ™‚

      Reply
  5. Thank you so much for this incredibly insightful article, Christine! As someone who is now 100% committed to living the vegan lifestyle, the first battle is always the MENTAL battle-am I ready to do this? Will I miss my meat, cheese and sugar? Will I miss out on great tasting food? Will I ever feel full? So forth and such which. Haha. Once we’ve decided in our hearts and minds that we’re ready to make a lifestyle change, it will be easier for us to put it into practice. So far, so good! I’m a vegan on a mission, and it’s not “Mission Impossible!” Haha. Great read. God bless you!

    Reply
  6. Christine,

    It is so true that you have to take care of your body in order to take care of the mind. I get that most people that love steaks and meat (my husband) seem to think that healthy food only consists of salads.

    He had a doc appt a few days ago for something snapping in his elbow. He was attempting to be the “strong guy” and lift almost a 1K lbs fridge. We just bought it off our friend and it’s huge and heavy. Of course, in this doc appt, they asked when the last time he had blood tests done. He’s nearing 44 this year, so of course, docs always want our blood.

    The good news that day, is his ligaments are fine, nothing torn or broken. Yay! Bad news, he’s pre-diabetic, has high cholesterol and elevated liver enzymes, and they recommended meds. He hates pills, so he refused the meds. The doc said, “Well, change your lifestyle, get these levels low in the next 6 months and you might avoid meds. I’ll refer you to a nutritionist.”

    The doc of course, didn’t know that I have a BA in nutrition. So, I let him know that I’m very aware of what this means for my husband and I’ll get him on track.

    That night, we stopped at the store. I’m over here looking for chicken breasts and a few other veggies (I have a lot of frozen already, I use veggies with everything!) and hubby’s over here grabbing a ton of salad kits. I asked, when I saw him throw 5 bags of spinach in the cart, what are you doing? Are you going to eat all that before it rots and gets mushy? He says, I’ll just eat salad every night.

    I’m over here, like, no thank you. It’s winter in Alaska and it’s freaking cold!! I hate salad when it’s cold. In the summer on a hot day, sure, but I like soups and other dishes that are warm…..cooked.

    So, first night in, he eats his salad. Now, I get that he loves salad. I do too, just not all the time. And when it’s 20 degrees F outside, I’m good on salad. I need warmth. So, I cook some eggs for myself that night and he ate a big bowl of salad with extra spinach.

    The next night, I’m already prepping dinner. I pulled out some chicken breast tenders, cauli rice, broccoli and bacon. My plan, wrap a single piece of bacon around the tenders (I needed to cook the rest before the bacon went bad…not exactly good for cholesterol) and a big bag of spinach.

    Hubby looks over my shoulder and asks if I’m cooking for him too. I said of course babe. Then he says, “Is it healthy? Can I even eat it.” He sees the bacon and assumes he can’t have it.

    Of course it’s healthy. Not the bacon per se, but I need to use it and I don’t have much left, and it’ll go bad. You’re not getting carbs, which is really important right now. Your cholesterol is only a little high, but that’s from all the junk food he eats for lunch. Famous fast food places for his lunch destination. The WORST thing to eat.

    So, I finish my dinner. Bacon wrapped tenders, garlic & olive oil spinach and cauliflower riced pilaf with broccoli.

    He starts eating it, and says, “This is really good babe. You’re sure this is healthy?”
    “Yes, Lover. It’s healthy.”

    He then proceeds to tell me he’s thankful for the hot dinner and how he so wasn’t looking forward to another salad. I told him, you can cook healthy love. I do all the time. You just love snacks and junk after. Chips, Dr Pepper, Gatorade, and lunch out with co-workers is not helping you.

    Every night, I cook with whole grains – I love pasta – chicken, vegetables, olive oil. Stuff that’s good for you. I have problems with my weight, and have for the last decade. If I so much as LOOK at a brownie, I gain 5 lbs. It’s ridiculous!

    I told him if he didn’t stray from the healthy stuff I make, he’d be fine. Diabetes runs in my family, so does obesity. So I have to watch what I do ALL THE DAMN TIME!

    Now, he’s figuring it out. The one that always said he was more healthy than me and can lose weight fast found out that, yes, he needs to.

    Anyway, loved this article! It just struck true on recent events for me. Thanks for sharing this!! I always love your articles.

    Katrina

    Reply
    • Hi Katrina,

      Your husband is lucky that you have studied nutrition and can help him without him having to resort to medications. He can turn this around by eating healthy. I also hate salads, by the way, I think they’re so boring, and there are so many delicious ways to prepare vegetables. I hope your husband gets better soon!

      Reply
      • Thanks Christine! I know the next appt will be good news. He just has to stick with good food when he’s not around me! That’ll be the hard part for him. But, he knows I care about his health and want a long, healthy life together with him. So, I’ll make sure to give him healthy, good foods. πŸ™‚

        Reply
  7. We all know that we really should eat healthy but generally do not do so simply because of expediency. The most unhealthy foods usually come in the form of processed foods. These pack on the calories! Right now, by choice, one of my goals this year is to eat healthy – no matter what….

    Eating healthy (lots of vegetables and fruits) not only improve overall health, but increase mental alertness as you don’t have the sugars and fatty fried foods weighing you down. Are there other “good drinks” other than the 3 you have provided – water, fresh squeezed juice and green tea?

    Thanks.
    Ceci

    Reply
    • Hi Ceci,

      That’s a good new year’s resolution πŸ™‚ As for other healthy drinks, I would additionally recommend sparkling water (you could squeeze half a lime in it and add some chia seeds – it’s really good!). Homemade smoothies are also great and you can vary the flavors. Green teas can be bought with added berries or other flavors. Personally, I am not crazy about the taste of green tea, but I drink it every day in different flavor packs, I have green tea with mango, with berries, and with matcha. I hope that helps.

      Reply

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