Individuals who fill their plates with fruits, vegetables, and whole foods tend to have a more positive mood, and lower levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns.
What is the connection between nutrition and mental health?
Have you ever felt “butterflies in your stomach” when you’re anxious or stressed? This is a perfect example of the connection between our gut and brain, called the gut-brain axis. While our brain sends signals to our gut, our gut is also sending signals to our brain. Because our gut gets its information from the food we put into it, the foods we eat can influence our mood, emotions, and overall mental health. This happens because these foods help determine what signals our gut sends to our brain, including signals that impact our mood and emotions. Our gut also produces a lot of our bodies “feel good” chemicals based on the foods we eat. So, the better we feed our gut, the more positive signals are going to be sent to our brain, leading to better moods and less anxiety, stress, depression, and other mental health concerns.
What are signs and symptoms that our diet is impacting our mental health?
There are many signs and symptoms showing our eating habits may be negatively impacting our mental health including fatigue, insomnia, nervousness, mood swings, depression, memory issues, and stomach issues. The good news is we can support a positive mood and reduce mental health concerns through our eating habits. However, remember that experiencing any of these symptoms does not guarantee our eating habits are the cause or cure.
How can we use our diet to improve our mental health?
The best thing we can do for our bodies and brains is consume a diet that prioritizes fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods, such as whole grains, nuts, beans, fish, poultry, and eggs, and reduces processed foods. We can also ‘feed’ our gut with gut healing foods, such as fermented foods, pre- and pro- biotics, and anti-inflammatory foods to ensure our gut is healthy and supporting our brain. A tip encouraged by many health coaches is to focus on the good things you can add to your diet rather than what to take out, allowing you to have a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity. Finally, remember that eating habits are individualized and no one type of food is the cure for any mental health symptoms, and it is best to focus on an overall balanced diet rich in whole foods.
Written by Kelly Hall, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, at Jefferson Center and Geriatric and Family Medicine.
If you have concerns about your mental health, talk to your primary care provider or call our main line at 303-425-0300. If you think you have a behavioral health emergency, please call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255.