Good nutrition isn’t the magic pill to cure all mental illness, but it can contribute (along with other therapies) to improvements in symptoms and help you manage your mood on a more regular basis. When anxiety, depression, or other feelings hit, it can be difficult to remember to eat (or stop eating), never-mind build a balanced meal. This is why it’s so important to create a habit of prioritizing nutrition on your “good days”. If you deliver adequate energy and nutrients to fuel the brain, while also doing a better job regulating blood sugar, you may improve hormone fluctuations. This can translate into some improvements in mood.
Then, on a not so good day, it’s more likely that eating adequately is a habit, or that pulling together a balanced meal or snack won’t seem so daunting in your overwhelmed mind.
Eat Enough, Often Enough
The central nervous system (CNS) runs on carbohydrates, so when you aren’t eating enough total energy, it makes sense that brain health suffers. Dieting or erratic eating patterns can lead to low total energy intake over the course of the day. When the CNS receives less than it needs, it certainly will feel stressed out. Release of extra stress hormones in someone who already is prone to mental health problems may add to the factors listed on page two, and act as a trigger.
If not eating often enough, these same stress hormones may be released in excess. For some people, after going awhile without eating their genetic wiring may prompt compulsive eating, leading to excessive intake of low nutrient dense foods in a sitting, to create metabolic disturbances, gastrointestinal discomfort, and more stress.
Eating 4-5 total times per day is a good goal to ensure a regular supply of energy is available for the CNS to function well, and for the body to metabolically trust you’ll continue to give it what it needs.
Balance Your Meals And Snacks
Along with the carbohydrate energy your CNS needs, you also need energy from fat, structural components of protein, and fiber. All three of these nutrients aid in satiety and slow blood sugar responses after eating. This allows for a more steady and longer delivery of energy to the blood stream and body’s cells. Brainstorm ways to get all 3 nutrients and both meals and snacks.
Plant Food For A Better Mood
One thing every well-researched eating pattern agrees on is that higher intakes of whole plant foods are associated with better health outcomes – mental health included. One eating pattern that is often recommended is the Mediterranean Diet. A recent randomized control trial showed that just 3 weeks of a Mediterranean pattern lowered depression scores by roughly 30 percent and that scores remained lower 3 months after the study. Its also been well researched that a high intake of fruits and vegetables (7-8 servings per day) is associated with lower levels of stress, increased levels of happiness, and higher levels of self-confidence.
If you’re far from the following, don’t be overwhelmed! One serving of vegetables per day is better than zero, so work slowly to build habits of eating enough of the below food groups.
- 4-5 servings of vegetables
- 2-3 servings of fruits
- 3 servings of whole grains
- Proteins such as legumes, soy, fish, eggs
- 3 tbsp nuts and seeds
- Ample spices, such as turmeric, cinnamon
Omega 3 And Vitamin D
If you aren’t eating fatty fish or foods fortified with omega-3’s twice per week, it may be time to start. At the very least, you should aim to include fat from chia and flax seeds, walnuts, and avocado oil due to omega-3 content. If you’re following a vegan eating pattern, algae oil supplements are recommended.
In the winter months, a Vitamin D 3 supplement is recommended and may have a serious impact on some. Speak with your physician, psychiatrist or a registered dietitian before selecting the D supplement that is best for you.