Can Diet Impact Your Mental Health?

We all know that eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly are the keys to feeling healthier. But researchers at Binghamton University in New York just found that especially for women, eating a balanced diet is key to emotional well-being too.

Lina Begdache, who led the research team for the study, explains that, “The biggest takeaway is that women may need a larger spectrum of nutrients to support mood, compared to men. These findings may explain the reason why women are twice more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression and suffer from longer episodes, compared to men.”

So what can women eat to improve their mental health and well-being? The jury’s still out on the perfect diet for achieving mental wellness, but the UK’s Mental Health Foundation has some ideas. They recommend whole grains, fruits, and vegetables because they contain thiamin, folate, and zinc, which are all nutrients that have been associated with improving and controlling mood.

In addition, the Mental Health America organization recommends eating foods that are rich in Vitamin D since Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Salmon and tuna are naturally rich in Vitamin D, and milk, orange juice, and cereal often come “Vitamin D fortified” meaning they have Vitamin D added to them. They also suggest consuming foods that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to have a mood-stabilizing effect and may also support the effectiveness of antidepressant medications. To get Omega-3 fatty acids, try eating salmon, trout, walnuts, olive oil, and dark leafy vegetables.

It turns out there are actually foods you should avoid to improve your mental health too. Sugar has been associated with depression and anxiety, and some individuals swear that kicking sugar has made all the difference in improving their mental health. After quitting sugar for one month, Catherine Hayes noticed a huge difference in her quality of life. “My energy levels picked up. I was finally sleeping. My moods weren’t as low. I was happier, and the anxiety and depression just didn’t seem to be there,” she explains.

Bad news for all you coffee lovers out there: caffeine has also been associated with depression and anxiety. Studies have shown that it may worsen depression in individuals already prone to mood disorders, and can heighten anxiety in individuals prone to panic attacks. And since it provides a boost to the nervous system, caffeine can worsen mood once its effects wear off. But this isn’t always the case. Other studies indicate that caffeine may actually prevent depression. The bottom line? Be mindful of your mood when you’re consuming caffeine to see how it affects you.

For more tips on how to improve your mental wellness, check out 5 Easy Ways to Practice Mindfulness.

Written By: Kara Cuzzone

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