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Diet and its Impact on Mental Health

Updated: Jun 20


Diet
Diet plays a crucial role!
 

Diet plays a crucial role not only in our physical health but also in our mental well-being. In recent years, scientific research has increasingly emphasized the importance of proper nutrition for mental health. Understanding which foods affect our mental health can help us make better dietary choices and lead a healthier, more balanced lifestyle. Experts highlight that a healthy diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids can support our mood and ability to cope with stress.


Nutrients and Brain Function:


Our brains require various nutrients to function properly. Deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals can lead to problems with concentration, memory, and mood. Key nutrients for brain health include:


  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Found in fish, nuts, and seeds. Research has shown they have a positive impact on mood and can reduce symptoms of depression. Omega-3s are essential for the structure of neuron cell membranes, affecting intercellular communication in the brain.


  • B Vitamins: Especially vitamin B12 and folate. Their deficiency can lead to fatigue, memory problems, and mood disturbances. These vitamins are crucial for the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which regulate mood.


  • Vitamin D: Found in fatty fish, eggs, and synthesized by the skin when exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D affects neuron health and neurotransmitter regulation. Its deficiency can lead to mood issues and impaired cognitive function. Adequate vitamin D levels support mental health and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.


  • Antioxidants: Found in fruits and vegetables. They protect the brain from oxidative stress and support neuron health. Regular consumption of antioxidants can reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.


Gut Microbiome and Mental Health:


Increasing research suggests that the gut microbiome—a complex ecosystem of bacteria living in our intestines—directly impacts our well-being. A healthy diet rich in fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics can support gut health, which in turn translates to better mental health.


Dr. Tracy Marks emphasizes that a healthy gut is crucial for the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which regulates mood, appetite, and sleep. It is estimated that up to 90% of serotonin in our body is produced in the gut. Therefore, taking care of gut health through proper diet is extremely important for our mental health.


  • Prebiotics: These are food components that stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. They are found in onions, garlic, bananas, and whole grain products.


  • Probiotics: These are live microorganisms that have a beneficial effect on gut health. They naturally occur in yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and fermented products.


More information on probiotics and prebiotics can be found here:


Sugar = Killer

Simple Sugars and Mental Health:


Consuming large amounts of simple sugars found in processed foods can lead to mood swings, feelings of fatigue, and concentration problems. Stable blood sugar levels are important for maintaining a stable mood and energy throughout the day. Research suggests that excessive sugar intake can lead to brain inflammation, which in turn affects neurotransmitter function. High blood sugar levels can also lead to insulin resistance, which is associated with a higher risk of depression.


Consuming large amounts of simple sugars causes rapid increases and decreases in glucose levels, leading to sudden mood changes, feelings of irritability, and anxiety. After the initial energy spike caused by sugar consumption, there is a rapid drop, resulting in feelings of fatigue and exhaustion. Unstable blood sugar levels negatively affect cognitive function, making concentration difficult and reducing productivity. Sugar can induce brain inflammation, disrupting the action of neurotransmitters responsible for mood, such as serotonin and dopamine. Excessive sugar consumption also leads to insulin resistance, increasing the risk of metabolic disorders and depression. Regularly consuming large amounts of sugar can result in long-term health problems such as chronic fatigue, mood disorders, and increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases.



Do you struggle with maintaining healthy eating habits? A few words from Natalia, your psychologist.

"Years of work in the fitness industry have made healthy eating habits an integral part of my life. Through trial and error, gradually, with varying results, I learned what kind of diet and approach to nutrition works best for me.


It took me a long time to accept the fact that eating doesn't have to bring me immense pleasure, as TV commercials suggest, but it serves primarily to provide energy. Associating eating with pleasure introduces a lot of confusion and leads to unhealthy dependencies, such as on sweets or salty snacks. Of course, it's nice when food tastes delicious; you can combine healthy foods with exquisite flavors, but obtaining pleasure shouldn't be the sole goal. The goal is to nourish the body, recharge it with minerals, and gain energy for life.


From my experience, it's crucial to realize why I eat and especially why I reach for unhealthy products. A simple question, to which the answer should be: 'to nourish the body' or 'because I'm hungry.' However, it's hard to talk about 'nourishment' when eating a chocolate-caramel bar or another pack of chips. Usually, there's a different, not necessarily conscious goal behind such choices.


Temporary pleasure, especially if repeated regularly, usually ends with feelings of guilt, self-blame, and decreased self-efficacy. We fall into a worse mood, which can lead to a vicious cycle - we reach again for something quick, readily available, and unhealthy to improve our mood.


Here are some helpful solutions. Remember that not every solution will be suitable for everyone. Each of us is different, so individual factors should be taken into account.


Setting a goal: Ask yourself why you want to change your eating habits. Remember that if your goal is only weight loss, your motivation may not last long. After achieving your desired physique, you may lose the desire to continue working on your diet. Think about what would happen if your goal became physical and mental health and gaining more energy every day. Healthy habits show self-love, unhealthy not, even if they provide momentary pleasure


Balanced diet: Avoid restrictive diets and aggressive calorie deficits that lead to binge eating and feelings of guilt. Remember about a balanced diet and eating the recommended amount of calories. Consult a clinical dietitian who will prepare a dietary plan tailored to your needs and preferences.


Identifying triggers: Make a list of situations that trigger your desire to reach for unhealthy food, such as low mood, stress, social gatherings, or shopping on an empty stomach. Being aware of these factors will help you avoid temptations.


Coping strategies: Develop strategies to help you avoid triggers. For example, avoid aisles with sweets in the supermarket, don't keep unhealthy food at home, and prepare for situations where you may feel tempted to eat something unhealthy.


Dietary plan: Establish a plan with your dietitian that won't require excessive effort and involvement. Determine how many times a week you can allow yourself other, unplanned meals. Do you want to go to the restaurant? Determine what exactly you can eat there. Use calorie-counting apps to control your calorie intake, and if you don't like counting calories, eat wisely and avoid overeating.


Basic nutrition knowledge: Gain basic knowledge about carbohydrates, fats, and proteins and their impact on the body. Find out what products you eat most often, in what quantities, and whether they are properly balanced. Remember that proteins help burn calories and provide a feeling of fullness. At the end of the article, you will find recipes for vegetable and fruit smoothies that can help provide your body with the essential vitamins and minerals you need every day.


Caloric intake of meals: Stick to your caloric needs. Even if you eat unhealthy food in the right amounts, you won't gain weight. However, remember that the better micro and macronutrients you eat, the healthier you are.


Observing thoughts and reactions: Observe your thoughts and reactions related to eating. Ask yourself questions that will help you understand why you reach for unhealthy food. When thoughts about eating arise, consider how you can control them.


Some questions you can use are: Why am I eating this? Is it something I want or something I need? What will be the consequences of this choice? How will I feel later? In case of a dietary crisis you can use methods such as splashing your hands with icy water, breathing exercises, or meditation.


Remember that everyone is different, and not all solutions will be suitable for everyone. Finding an individual approach to healthy eating is the key to success."


Natalia

Facts about some products:


Kiwi is one of the richest sources of vitamin C, which is essential for the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, affecting mood and cognitive function. It also contains powerful antioxidants that protect brain cells from oxidative stress, which can lead to neurological disorders. Furthermore, studies suggest that regular consumption of kiwi may improve sleep quality, directly impacting mental health by helping reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.


Beetroots, on the other hand, are rich in betaine, which supports serotonin production in the brain, improving mood and reducing symptoms of depression. Nitrites contained in beetroots convert to nitric oxide, which improves blood flow to the brain, supporting cognitive function and enhancing concentration. Additionally, beetroots are a source of folic acid (vitamin B9), essential for brain health, deficiencies of which are associated with a higher risk of depression and problems with memory and concentration


Walnuts are one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which play a crucial role in brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids support the proper functioning of nerve cells, improving impulse transmission and positively affecting cognitive functions. Additionally, walnuts are rich in antioxidants such as vitamin E and polyphenols, which protect the brain from oxidative stress and cell aging.


Carrots, on the other hand, are an excellent source of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. This vitamin plays a significant role in protecting brain health by supporting cognitive function and maintaining healthy communication between nerve cells. Moreover, carrots contain antioxidants like carotenoids, which protect the brain from damage caused by free radicals, potentially reducing the risk of neurological disorders.


It's worth incorporating certain foods into your daily diet, at least for a few days a week, to improve overall health and well-being. Foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats can provide essential nutrients. However, it's important to consider individual factors such as allergies and food intolerances to avoid potential allergic reactions. Tailoring your diet to your own needs allows you to enjoy the health benefits without the risk of negative effects.

Diet
Smoothie

Smoothie Recipes Supporting Health:


Homemade smoothies are an excellent way to provide your body with essential vitamins and minerals. They are easy to prepare and allow for experimentation with a variety of ingredients such as fresh fruits, vegetables, yogurts, nuts, and seeds. Smoothies can boost the immune system, improve digestion, and provide energy throughout the day. Additionally, regularly consuming smoothies can help maintain a healthy weight, as they are filling and can replace less healthy snacks. Thanks to their fiber, antioxidants, and healthy fats, homemade smoothies are not only delicious but also support overall physical and mental well-being. Here are recipes for smoothies that support mental health:


Fruit smoothie:


  • 1 banana: Bananas are rich in B vitamins and potassium, which support nervous system function.


  • 1 cup spinach: Spinach is a source of magnesium, which helps reduce stress and improve mood.


  • 1/2 cup berries (can be frozen): Berries are full of antioxidants that protect the brain from oxidative stress.


  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds: Chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which support brain health.

  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter: Peanut butter provides healthy fats and protein, essential for stable energy levels.


  • 1 cup almond milk or other plant-based milk: Almond milk is low in calories and rich in vitamin E, acting as an antioxidant.


  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric: Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties and may improve mood.


  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon: Cinnamon stabilizes blood sugar levels, impacting mood stability.


A smoothie with mango, kiwi, orange, and kale is a great way to provide your body with essential nutrients after a workout. Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in these fruits and vegetables support muscle recovery, boost immunity, and have anti-inflammatory properties.


  • 250ml water: Supports digestion, nutrient transport, and toxin removal, and helps replenish lost fluids after a workout.


  • Mango: Rich in vitamin C, supporting the immune system, and vitamin A, beneficial for skin and vision. It also contains fiber and antioxidants.


  • 2 Kiwis: Source of vitamin C, E, and folic acid. Supports the immune system and has antioxidant properties.


  • Orange: Provides a large dose of vitamin C, supports muscle recovery, and has anti-inflammatory properties.


  • 200g Kale: Rich in vitamin K, A, C, and minerals such as iron and calcium. It has antioxidant properties and supports detoxification.


A smoothie made of beetroot, carrot, and spinach is an excellent way to replenish your body with essential nutrients after a workout:


  • 1 beetroot: Rich in betaine, which supports muscle regeneration and improves physical performance.

  • 1 carrot: Contains beta-carotene, beneficial for vision and skin health.

  • 1 red apple: Source of fiber and antioxidants, supports digestion and overall health.

  • ½ cup of spinach: Contains iron and magnesium, crucial for muscle regeneration and oxygen transport.

  • Juice from half a lemon: Supports digestion, adds freshness, rich in vitamin C.

  • 1 tablespoon of ginger: Adds refreshing flavor, may help reduce inflammation.

  • 250ml or more of water: Provides necessary hydration for the body, maintaining water-electrolyte balance, and supports post-workout recovery.


Preparation:


  1. Place all ingredients in a blender.

  2. Blend until smooth.


3. Pour into a glass and enjoy your healthy and delicious smoothie!


Conclusion:


A healthy diet directly impacts our mental health. Improving the quality of our meals can lead to better mood, increased concentration, and overall life satisfaction. Incorporating nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and fiber, while avoiding excessive simple sugars, can support mental health in many ways. By taking care of gut health, avoiding excess sugar, and consuming appropriate nutrients, we can significantly improve our mental health and overall well-being.



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