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How You Can Improve Your Mental Health with Healthier Eating Habits

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If you tell your doctor you’re feeling depressed, they may recommend therapy. And while traditional therapy is a highly effective way of treating depression, there may be more to the story. And what we’re missing may prove to be the missing link in treating depression. The missing link we’re talking about here is nutrition.

We’ve all heard the old cliche that ‘you are what you eat’. It has become such an over-used cliche because there’s actually a lot of truth to that sentence. Food is fuel for your body and brain, so it only makes sense that what you eat would impact your overall wellbeing, from your mood to the way your body functions. 

There’s also an interesting correlation between depression and the way we eat. According to the American Dietetic Association, we either eat too much or too little when we’re depressed; neither case is productive for mental health. 

Here are some ways on how you can improve your mental health by making a commitment to healthy eating. 

Eat more whole foods

Whole foods are foods that come directly from mother nature. They have had little to no processing, and so they retain all the goodness of their whole and natural state. Focus primarily on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Beans and lentils are also incredible brain foods.

Just be careful about the new diet you choose and stay as close to a whole foods diet as possible. A Journal of Medicine and Life study found that certain diets high in processed foods can worsen symptoms of depression.

Focus on gut health 

Recent research indicates that a healthy gut may lead to a happy mind. There’s actually a physical connection between the gut and the brain called the vagus nerve, and that’s how the gut sends messages to the brain and vice versa.

According to information from the American Psychological Association, bacteria in the gut produce an array of neurochemicals that help the brain regulate physiological and mental processes. In fact, many researchers believe that as much as 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin is produced in the gut. 

So, how do you promote positive gut health? It may be easier than you think. Most habits that we consider healthy will promote a healthy gut. 

Here are a few things that may help:

  • Sleep well. When you aren’t sleeping well, your body’s hunger and satiety hormones cannot function properly. This can lead to cravings for sugary and starchy foods that promote unhealthy bacterial growth.
  • Avoid alcohol. Alcohol converts to sugar in the body and can promote an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut. Alcohol abuse can also lead to alcoholism, which will inevitably worsen depression. There’s a strong correlation between alcoholism and depression, and dual diagnosis is common. Unfortunately, dual diagnosis treatment can be a bit more complicated, so it’s better to address any drinking problems before they progress to alcoholism.
  • Avoid sugars and refined carbohydrates. Sugar cravings are one of the first signs of poor gut health you’ll notice. And this can be a vicious cycle until you get things under control. When your gut bacteria are out of balance, you’re likely to crave the very things that feed the harmful bacteria. And that includes sugars and refined carbohydrates. It takes a concerted effort to turn things around, but it will be beneficial for your overall health.
  • Eat probiotic-rich foods or take supplements. Probiotics aren’t a replacement for eating right, sleeping well, and avoiding alcohol. But they can definitely help your gut get back on track. Most probiotic strains in foods and on the supplement market contain beneficial strains that will temporarily proliferate your gut in an attempt to starve out some of the bad bugs. In order to experience lasting effects, you must continue taking probiotics. If you’re feeling depressed, traditional counselling or psychotherapy can help, but you’ll have the best chance for success if you combine those efforts with a healthy, probiotic-rich diet. 


Image credit: Freepik

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg. He interviews people within psychology, mental health, and well-being on his YouTube channel, The DRH Show.


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