The influence of nutrition and eating habits on mental health is a topic that is receiving an increasing amount of attention from researchers. A good number of them have observed that those who consume a typical Western diet, which consists of foods that have undergone extensive processing and are augmented with added sugars, are at a higher risk of acquiring anxiety and depression.
Even though a large percentage of the studies that have been conducted to this point have concentrated on the advantages of the Mediterranean diet, it is possible that other dietary habits also have a positive impact on mental well-being.
In this article, we take a look at some of the evidence that suggests a healthy diet may be able to enhance mental health as well as assist in the treatment of certain conditions and even help prevent others. We also discuss how mood can be affected by food.
Is There a Connection Between Diet and Mental Health?
Alterations to a person’s eating habits have the potential to boost their mental health. Nutritional psychiatry, also known as psychonutrition by some, is a relatively new branch of psychiatry that examines the impact that eating habits have on one’s mental health. The majority of research has been done on the effects of two types of diets: the typical Western diet and the Mediterranean diet.
According to the findings of this research, a person’s likelihood of developing mental health issues like depression and anxiety increases in proportion to the degree to which they adhere to a Western diet, which is characterized by the consumption of foods that have been highly processed. On the other hand, research suggests that those who adhere to a diet similar to that of the Mediterranean are at a lower risk of developing mental health conditions.
Investigators from the Psychiatric Institute at King’s College in London investigated the specific ways in which nutrition may affect mental health. They concentrated their study on the effects that different diets have on the hippocampus.
The hippocampus is a region of the brain that is responsible for the process known as neurogenesis, which creates new neurons. Neurogenesis in the hippocampus has been linked by research to both a person’s mood and cognitive abilities. It appears that antidepressant medication can stimulate neurogenesis in the hippocampus, in contrast to stressful events, which appear to inhibit this process. The following are examples of factors that can have a detrimental effect on adult neurogenesis:
- Oxidative stress caused by aging
- Diets high in fat and sugar, as well as alcohol and opioids
It seems that eating well and engaging in healthy behaviors can promote neurogenesis. These are the following:
Although no one diet is guaranteed to improve mental health, certain patterns of eating seem to be more beneficial than others.
The Mediterranean diet, which is one of the most popular diet plans, has the highest evidence to back up its capacity to alleviate the symptoms of depression, according to a trusted source. Additionally, it is a diet that is consistently recommended by authorities as being beneficial to one’s general health and well-being.
Compounds found in the Mediterranean diet, such as olive oil and fish, which have been linked to lower rates of depression include the following:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin D
- Methylfolate is essential amino acids
The Mediterranean diet is characterized by the consumption of:
- Abundant amounts of fruit and vegetable
- Whole grains
- Beans and other pulse foods
- The nut and seed supply
- Dairy products, fish, and poultry that are low to moderate
- A negligible amount of red meat
- Eggs no more than four times per week
- A low to moderate amount of wine
There has been some encouraging research done on the potential benefits of calorie restriction as a treatment for depressive symptoms. Calorie restriction is described as “a decrease in energy consumption well below the number of calories that might be ingested,” according to the definition provided by experts in the field. The severity of the limitation will be adjusted for each individual taking into account their specific requirements.
In a study that investigated the link between food consumption and depression, researchers have described calorie reduction as a reduction of 30–40% in the total number of calories consumed while preserving the amount of protein, vitamins, minerals, and water consumed to ensure adequate nutrition. A person who typically consumes 2,000 calories in a day would, by this definition, consume an amount of food that falls somewhere between 1,200 and 1,400 calories.
However, it’s possible that a person doesn’t need to cut their calorie consumption by that much. It was also noted that in an earlier study, individuals who lowered their calorie consumption by 25% for six months also had diminished depressive symptoms. These results were found in people who were otherwise fit and active.
It is extremely important to keep in mind that reducing one’s calorie intake can sometimes result in the emergence of an eating disorder. In addition, it is not a safe practice for people who already suffer from eating disorders or behaviors that are associated with eating disorders.
Anyone interested in trying out calorie reduction should also consult a medical professional or a nutritionist for advice on how to make sure they are getting sufficient amounts of the nutrients their bodies need. It is also essential to avoid calorie restriction or adhering to a diet low in calories over the long term, as doing so can cause neuronal damage and exacerbate the symptoms of depression.
Fasting on an Intermittent Basis
Some research suggests that performing intermittent fasts can help improve one’s mood as well as mental health. Fasting has been shown to improve a person’s mood, as well as their subjective feeling of well-being, attentiveness, serenity, and even, in some instances, euphoria, according to clinical researchers.
A Limited Study Was Done in 2013
A study conducted with men over the age of 50 years discovered that compared to a control group, those who took part in intermittent fasting had substantial reductions in the following health conditions:
- Emotional ups and downs
However, the findings of other studies are inconsistent. Fasting for 48 hours was found to cause negative mood shifts in novice weightlifters, including a substantial increase in anger and a small rise in confusion and fatigue. In the same way that restricting calories can be dangerous for some people, so can intermittent fasting. Individuals who have a past of eating disorders or problems with their blood sugar, such as hypoglycemia, mustn’t try intermittent fasting without the supervision of a medical professional.