You are what you eat. Not only your body, but your mind, too, reflects your diet.
We are constantly reminded to stay physically active. We read up on how to stay fit. We make sure to work out regularly and sometimes stick to a healthy diet. We take the necessary measures to maintain a healthy body. We have assumed and accepted that it was only a matter of concern if something was tangible—for example, physical fitness.
Consequently, mental well-being was neglected, and mental health care, largely unheard of. The negligence of the importance of mental health has had severe implications. This includes the perpetuation of the taboo relating to mental health. And hence, unlike when we encounter a physical injury, which we immediately cater to, we hardly acknowledge a blow to our mental health.
Our physical health and mental health are equally important. But are they interrelated?
1) Physical health and Mental health
There exists an exciting relationship between our physical health and our mental health. Our physical health has effects on our mental health, and vice versa. Some even regard them inseparable.
The conditions of our physical health influence our mental well-being, and those of our mental health shape our outlook on physical activities and exercise. Knowing that we are healthy and can take care of our own needs gives us a sense of independence. This likely enhances our self-efficacy, promoting positive mental well-being. Engaging in regular physical activity keeps us mentally healthy and active. Poor physical health can take a toll on our mental well-being. Likewise, when our self-esteem is low or our self-image is negative, we wouldn’t be motivated to engage in any form of exercise. We wouldn’t want to work on ourselves or take care of our bodies. This may further deteriorate our physical health.
Hence, our minds and bodies work in tandem to help us function in our daily lives, and they are excessively interrelated and cannot be viewed distinctly.
2) A well-balanced diet and mental health
Increasing evidence points out that our diet and our mental health are associated. In proportion, a well-balanced diet carries all the components – carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, vitamins, and essential fats, and these different important components have lasting impacts on our mental health. Here are six such convincing means that our diet and mental health are intricately related.
Carbohydrates play an essential role in regulating our mood and behavior. We obtain the energy we need to function every day through our diet in carbohydrates. When we consume a meal abundant in carbohydrates, it promotes the release of insulin in our bodies. Insulin has two roles. One, to allow blood sugar into the cells, providing us with energy. And two, to trigger the release of tryptophan. The energy that we receive helps us stay active and alert throughout the day. The tryptophan is responsible for triggering the release of neurotransmitters in our bodies.
When we eat a meal lacking in carbohydrates, the production of tryptophan falls short. As a result, serotonin, also called the happy hormone, is not produced enough. This can cause us to feel depressed. Processed foods, like candies and sweets, produce a change in our moods. But, this is only temporary. Instead, we can consume carbohydrates rich in potatoes, sweet potatoes, oats, bananas, oranges. These leave lasting impacts on our moods.
Proteins are present in our bodies, mainly in amino acids, and they are either synthesized in our bodies or can be essential amino acids that we can consume via our diet. The importance of proteins concerning our mental health is that amino acids make up most of the neurotransmitters in our brains. Hence, when any proteins fall short in our body, the subsequent neurotransmitter levels also do. This impacts our moods and emotions.
Dopamine, for example, is made up of tyrosine and serotonin, of tryptophan. A shortage in these neurotransmitters is associated with low moods and aggression. To maintain an optimal protein level in our body, we need to take in foods rich in proteins. These include milk, cheese, butter, and other protein-rich products like eggs, meat, beans, peas, etc.
5) Minerals & Vitamins
We consume minerals and vitamins regularly tiredThese, too, which can play the role of regulating our moods. Chromium is one such mineral. When we consume it in excess, it may put us at a greater risk of worsening our depression or anxiety. Iron is another mineral that is a significant constituent of our blood, and it is associated with Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder in children. Selenium can help in improving our mood and reducing anxiety. We may incorporate selenium in our diet by eating beans, nuts, pork, meat, turkey, etc.
Principal vitamins in our bodies, like B-complex vitamins and Blood folate, help improve depressive symptoms. Foods that contain these include dark green vegetables like spinach, fish, meat, cheese, etc.
6) Essential fats
One essential fatty acid that we take in through our diet is the Omega 3 Fatty acid, and this component affects our attention levels and can aid us in sustaining focus. Fish oil is a primary source of Omega 3 Fatty acids.
7 ) Gut health
Our gut is home to about 90% of the cells in our bodies. These exist here, in microbes, forming a gut microbiome or gut microbiota. The bacteria present here affect our moods and our mental health. A direct connection between our brains and the gut was found in the form of the vagus nerve, which strengthened the idea of the gut’s connection to our moods.
When we eat foods rich in probiotics, like curd, yogurt, or sauerkraut, we promote the growth of the healthy microbes in our guts. And, hence we strengthen our immune system. These probiotics are more beneficial than we may think. Apart from their obvious advantages, they have other benefits too. They alleviate anxiety symptoms and improve our ability to deal with stress, making us more resilient.
Most of the time, we are so busy running errands and completing tasks that we do not notice our throats and lips drying up, and we don’t notice that we may be dehydrated. It is essential to drink healthy amounts of water regularly, and the recommended amount of water consumption is 2 liters every day.
Water keeps our skins from drying out. Staying hydrated also has benefits for our mental health. It keeps us alert and helps us when dealing with stressful situations. When we drink water, we are likely to feel more relaxed. Not drinking enough water leaves us exhausted, and our brains, too, don’t have the energy to function. Make sure to drink enough water every day. If you find this difficult, follow this trick that I do. Set the alarm every two hours to remind you to drink water. It works.
Does our mental health also affect our diet?
We read of the different ways our diet impacts our mental health. You may wonder if the relationship goes the other way too. Does our mental health have any influence on the food we consume? Aren’t we likely to gorge on ‘comfort foods’ that are rich in sugar, especially when we’re down? We see scenes of people pushing down whole cartons of ice cream after a rough break-up. The answer to this is that feeling sad can reduce our ability to taste complex fats. Hence, we consume in excess to try and get a taste of it.
One relevant area that we may consider while looking at the effects of our mental health on our diet is the different eating disorders. An eating disorder refers to a range of eating habits that are unhealthy or abnormal. This may take the form of obsession with food, obsession over one’s weight, or excessive control of diet and intake. Moreover, depression and anxiety are often linked to eating disorders. These eating habits may result in immoderate control over our diets. Sources also point out the effects stress can have on our diet. Stress has been associated with unhealthy eating habits and poor diet quality. Conversely, when we have healthy mental well-being, it provides an environment conducive to maintaining a healthy diet.
Nutritional psychiatry, a relatively newer field, has been growing in popularity. It studies the relationships between the different foods we eat and our emotional and mental states. With this information on how what we eat affects our mental well-being explicitly, we have all the more reason to be careful of what goes into our stomachs. It isn’t easy to stay away from foods you have grown to enjoy a lot. It is tough to eliminate your favorite foods. But the key, you must remember, is to consume in moderation. Try to reduce the intake of processed foods and include fresh greens as much as possible. Eat mindfully. Eat, keeping into consideration your well-being, not just physical but also mental.