Eat Yourself Happy: How Good Nutrition Can Improve Mental Health

Eat Yourself Happy: How Good Nutrition Can Improve Mental Health

Written by Yoppie

28 May 2021

How is nutrition connected to mental health?

So what should I be eating?

What shouldn’t I be eating? 

What is ‘balance’ anyway?

There are so many reasons to eat healthy and avoid junk food; managing weight, maintaining your immune system, fuelling fitness, boosting energy, reducing risk of disease, and more. But what about eating well to feed your mind? 

Paying attention to what you put into your body, and opting for nutritious foods instead of processed junk food, can be one of the greatest gifts you give your body. And it turns out your mental health can massively benefit too. Here’s how...

How is nutrition connected to mental health?

Many studies have linked diet and common mental health disorders like depression and anxiety, suggesting that diet could be as important to mental health as it is to physical health. There has even been early-stage research carried out on the possible role food allergies play in serious conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and though no direct evidence has been confirmed, it’s fascinating to see how closely our diet and mental state could be linked. 

Nutrition plays many roles in mental health. For example, it’s vital for brain development as it nourishes protein-building blocks, enzymes, brain tissue and neurotransmitters in the brain, and some nutrients have even been linked to increasing the connections between brain cells. In addition, good nutrition produces healthy gut bacteria, which helps your immune system tackle any inflammation that can affect our mood and cognition. 

So what should I be eating?

We want to be clear that this is not about limiting how much you eat (you don't have to monitor your calories and carbs to see the benefits of healthy eating!) but rather, it’s about choosing specific foods that could be beneficial to your brain and, as a result, mood.  

One review of 21 studies done in 10 countries found that a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fish, low fat dairy, and antioxidant-rich foods, combined with a low intake of animal foods, could reduce risk of depression. Another study focused on the Mediterranean diet (lots of veggies, fruit, legumes, nuts, beans, fish, etc.) which was associated with a 32% reduced risk of depression.

If you want to get reeeally detailed about which foods could have specific effects on your mental health, this dataset from MentalHealth.org.uk is super helpful:

Foods & Mental Health

“But wait!”, we hear you cry. “This seems like far too much diet change!” We get it. It can be overwhelming to completely overhaul your diet, so to summarise the above into a neat little package of advice; we recommend focusing on eating whole foods. The kind that doesn’t come out of a packet, isn’t processed, doesn’t contain lots of added sugar… you know the sort. 

Mental health charity Mind recommends simply: 

  • Getting your 5-a-day
  • Looking after your gut by eating plenty of fibre
  • Feeding your brain with protein (lean meat, fish, eggs, soya products, nuts, etc.)
  • Eating the right fats (omega-3 and -6 will keep your brain working well)
  • Staying hydrated (between 6–8 glasses of water a day)
  • Managing your caffeine intake

What shouldn’t I be eating? 

Eating healthy always seems to suggest that you must give up foods you love, and this isn’t always the case. Filling yourself up with plenty of nutritious foods will inevitably mean you have less room for junk food, and this will start to naturally manage any cravings you have. 

If you’re really looking to make a difference with your mental health by eating healthier, you’ll want to avoid foods that can negatively impact this. Yes, you can get that temporary feeling of happiness from takeaways, high-fat foods, high-sugar foods etc., but in the long run, if eaten on a regular basis, they are likely to keep your mood low. 

A 2017 study of the sugar intake of 23,000 people confirmed there could be adverse effects on long-term psychological health, showing how what’s on our plate can affect our brain. The participants in these studies were on diets that included processed foods, fried foods, refined grains (like white bread), high-sugar products, beer and more. 

What is ‘balance’ anyway?

It’s what we’re all searching for - balance! But what does it mean when we talk about a healthy balance within our diet? It’s all about considering how you feel mental health-wise, and listening to your body. If you are feeling anxious, depressed, unfocused, irritable, stressed, unmotivated, or not sleeping well, you could see some sort of improvement if you seek out more nutritious foods, and stick to eating them consistently enough to give your body time to benefit from them. 

“To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”  – Buddha

Remember, eating well can improve our mental health, but sometimes we need to find other ways to do this. If you are struggling with your mental health, don’t hesitate to reach out to your GP for more resources, and talk to those close to you. 

Have you made any dietary changes with your mental health in mind? We’d love to know if you have felt a difference. Tell us about your experience or ask any questions you have in our private Facebook group or drop us a note on Insta @itsyoppie. Don't forget that our personalised period box can get organic tamponsPMS supplements and more delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox, which frees up time to think about those eating habits.

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