“You are what you eat” is a saying commonly used to convey the idea that your overall health and well-being are influenced by the food you consume. Most of us grew up thinking of this in terms of how our diet affects our weight and physical health, but that’s only part of the story. What you eat can have a profound effect on how you feel—especially if you’re living with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another serious mental health condition.
At Eagle View Behavioral Health, we take a holistic approach to meeting the needs of our clients. In addition to offering therapy and medication, the team at our Bettendorf, Iowa, treatment center urges using general wellness practices such as a healthy diet to manage your symptoms.
Let’s look at some tips you can implement to take advantage of the connection between food and mental health.
- Stay Hydrated
Dehydration can affect cognitive function and mood, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating. Water should be your primary beverage, but it’s OK to experiment with flavored sugar-free syrups or fruit-infused waters if you don’t find the taste of plain water appealing. Caffeine-free herbal teas are also a good option.
The amount of water a person needs can vary based on several factors, including age, sex, weight, physical activity level, climate, and overall health. However, a general guideline often recommended is the “8×8 rule” which suggests drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day—or about 64 ounces total.
What cup you choose to drink from won’t affect how hydrated you are, but there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to a trendy Stanley tumbler in your favorite color or a bottle decorated with the logo of your favorite sports team if it makes you smile. In fact, having a container you like may make it easier to remind yourself to keep drinking throughout the day.
- Prioritize Whole Foods
Ideally, your diet should be rich in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and nuts. Whole foods provide essential nutrients that support brain health, neurotransmitter function, and overall mental well-being. For example, sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, etc.), chia seeds, and walnuts, are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, and their consumption is associated with a lower risk of mental health disorders. Similarly, lean proteins, such as poultry, tofu, beans, and legumes, provide amino acids necessary for synthesis of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
- Limit Processed Foods
Highly processed foods have many additives, preservatives, flavorings, and colorings that are used to enhance taste, texture, and shelf life. They’re often high in added sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats as well.
Regular consumption of highly processed foods can contribute to inflammation in your body. Chronic inflammation is linked to various mental health conditions, including depression.
Here are some examples of processed foods you should limit in your diet:
- Sugary breakfast cereals
- Packaged snack foods
- Instant ramen noodles
- Soda and sugary drinks
- Processed meats like hot dogs
- Frozen meals
- Fast food
- Microwave popcorn
- Commercial baked goods
- Flavored yogurts
- Canned soups
People often choose processed foods for convenience, and not all processed foods are unhealthy. Here are some examples of foods that are both convenient and nutritious:
- Greek yogurt
- Canned or frozen vegetables
- Frozen fruit
- Whole grain bread
- Whole grain pasta
- Nut butters
- Canned legumes
- Canned fish
- Increase Your Consumption of Probiotic-Rich Foods
The gut-brain connection highlights the influence of gut health on mental well-being, and probiotics contribute to a balanced and diverse microbiota. Your gut microbiota also play a role in the production and regulation of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which are key players in mood regulation.
Common sources of probiotics include fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and certain types of pickles. Additionally, probiotic supplements are available for those who find it difficult to consume probiotic-rich foods on a regular basis.
- Plan Meals That Help Keep Your Blood Sugar Stable
Even if you do not suffer from diabetes, fluctuations in blood sugar levels can affect your mood and energy levels. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Consuming foods that cause rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar can contribute to mood swings and irritability. The initial boost in energy you get often leads to a temporary improvement in mood, but the subsequent crash can result in feelings of irritability, anxiety, and even sadness.
- Eating smaller, balanced meals throughout the day can help regulate blood sugar levels more effectively than large, infrequent meals.
- Healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, can help stabilize blood sugar levels and promote satiety.
- Complex carbohydrates and fiber-rich foods release glucose more gradually, providing a steady supply of energy.
- Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is the practice of paying full attention to the experience of eating, including the sensations, flavors, and emotions associated with food, without judgment. It involves being present in the moment and cultivating a non-judgmental awareness of the entire eating process. This can help you recognize hunger and fullness cues—ultimately fostering a healthier relationship with food. When mealtime arrives, put down your phone, turn off the TV, and focus solely on the food that’s nourishing your body.
Do You Need Help Managing Your Mental Health?
If you haven’t been feeling quite like yourself, we’re here to help. Eagle View Behavioral Health offers effective treatment for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and many other mental health conditions. Contact us today to learn more.