Your Diet Affects Your Mental Health

A lot of people don’t realize this but your diet has a strong correlation to your mental health just as much as it does to your physical health.

Your Diet Affects Your Mental Health
Photo by Marcel Strauß / Unsplash

A lot of people don’t realize this but your diet has a strong correlation to your mental health just as much as it does to your physical health. Did you know 1 in 5 Americans have a diagnosable mental health issue? Some things are obviously severe enough you’ll need medication to correct and a doctor’s help to navigate through it all, but what if you could help an issue you may suffer from just by changing your diet? Wouldn’t you rather do that than spend endless hours and dollars at the doctor’s office and on pharmaceuticals? I would! So let’s look at what could be causing these mental health issues - or at minimum exacerbating them.

Sugar. No surprise there right? Especially if you’ve been here for long and you’ve been reading all I’ve shared with you about sugar. It’s SO bad for you and so toxic that it can even cause problems with your brain. Did you know drinking a can of soda a day can increase your risk of depression as much as 5%? And if you drink two and a half cans a day that risk increases to 25%! Sugar is very inflammatory in your body, as we’ve already learned, and that includes your brain. If you want to keep your brain as healthy as possible and keep it operating at optimum capacity - ditch the sugar.

Carbs. As we’ve also learned already, when carbs enter your body the majority of it becomes glucose so it’s essentially the same thing as eating sugar. Fiber and sugar alcohols are the exception - those do not convert to glucose when eaten as they are not digested by our bodies like all other carbs. That means you want to ditch the bread, crackers, chips, cereal, pasta, potatoes and all the other stuff that’s high in simple carbs and low in fiber and nutrients. It doesn’t mean you can’t eat carbs at all but you need to stick to complex carbs that are full of fiber and nutrients like broccoli, spinach, asparagus, lettuce, onions, garlic, and things like that. Let that food work for your body rather than destroy it.

Artificial Sweeteners. These can be tricky because there are some sweeteners that won’t harm your body and are totally fine to eat in moderation. Erythritol is a good example. It’s not going to cause a rise in your glucose and it’s not toxic to your body. But many sweeteners are terrible for you! Aspartame is the biggest example of this. It has been proven to be very damaging to your body and that’s the sweetener used in most diet drinks. So just say no to those drinks and stick to water, unsweetened ice tea, coffee, sparkling water, etc.

Fried Foods. Believe it or not, these can contribute to poor mental health. Foods that are fried are typically fried in vegetable oils that are inflammatory and high in omega-6 fats and not healthy for your body or your brain.

Trans Fats. These are technically banned in the United States now because they’re so bad for us. But because of loopholes, companies are allowed to phase them out slowly and that means they’re still out there on the shelves and in restaurants and you have to pay attention to what you’re eating. A couple of examples would be margarine and hydrogenated oils. Butter is completely healthy and good for you and it is a natural fat. Margarine is not. It’s fake garbage made in a plant to resemble butter but it’s terrible for us. Eat the real thing. Hydrogenated oil, vegetable oils, and shortening are also bad. Use natural oils like olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil. These are so good for us and full of nutrients but the others are made in a lab to give us a cheap alternative but they’re nasty and inflammatory.

I know it can be hard to think about giving these things up but think about your overall mental health and ask yourself if it’s worth it. If you’re feeling depressed and struggling each day, is it worth drinking that diet coke while eating a serving of french fries or some other fried food and following the meal with a dessert full of sugar? Or could you switch to a different way of thinking and focus on finding foods that are low-carb (and healthy carbs for the ones you do eat), moderate protein, and a good portion of healthy fats to enjoy? I promise you it tastes way better and leaves you feeling fantastic!

But if the thought of giving it up is too much for you, just cut back for now. If you’re used to having a meal like that every day, try to limit yourself to no more than 1-2 times a week. After you feel like you’ve got that, switch to once a month. Eventually you’ll see that your tastes will change and that stuff that you think tastes great now will lose it’s appeal and it won’t hit the spot anymore. You’ll taste it and wonder how you ever thought it was so good! haha!

In addition to adding good food to your diet and making sure you get the proper nutrients while avoiding all the toxic stuff, you can also add vitamins and supplements to your daily routine to help your mental health. Some that are good for your brain health are Vitamin C, the B Vitamins, Vitamin A, Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc, and Selenium. I’ve written a whole article about vitamins before so check that out if you’d like to learn more about that.

Remember that this is a lifestyle change to bring better health to your mind and your body. This isn’t a quick fix (although you can definitely see and feel changes quickly if you go all in!) and it’s not something you do for awhile and then go back to “normal.” Remember that the “normal” you’ve been used to is what got you where you are. Do you really want to go back to that?

You can allow yourself a treat every now and then as long as you don’t make a habit of it. Are you going to a wedding? Enjoy the food offered! Are you attending a birthday party of a loved one? It’s okay to indulge a little. But don’t make that your daily habit. Make it a once in awhile treat and your body will thank you.

The stats that I’ve shared in this post were gathered from the book This is Your Brain on Food by Uma Naidoo.