Nutrition: Why It Is Important for Mental Health

4 minutes Written by Chante Anderson

I’m sure we have all heard the saying “you are what you eat” and I believe that is true to an extent. What we consume directly affects our mental health and our physical health. This is being discussed more within our society and I would assume that a majority of the population is aware of how our diets impacts us as humans.

This is not a blog post on what diet I believe to be best for mental health because we are all bio-individuals and we all have different needs based off of our genes, environment, trauma history, and medical concerns. What works for some may not work for others. There is no “one diet that fits all” and that will solve all of your problems. This post is about discussing how food can impact your physiological response and then impact your mental health.

Talking about the food you are consuming when thinking about your mental health is important because certain foods can cause inflammation responses and/or glycation to occur. Glycation is a natural chemical reaction that happens in our bodies. It is when a sugar molecule binds to a protein or lipid. During this process proteins can be damaged and this prevents them being able to perform their functions normally. Proteins are important because they help build and repair our body. Glycation blocks proteins from being able to move freely throughout the body and the body’s membranes become “gunked up” and slow down neural communication. It can also cause damage to the mitochondria, which are the cells’ energy factories. This directly impacts our energy levels and our body’s ability to take care of its self.

This can cause oxidation in the body and leads to having excess free radicals in the body, which are unstable molecules that can build up and cause damage to DNA, proteins, and lipids. This damage can lead to chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cancers, cardiovascular problems, GI issues, autoimmunity, and can increase inflammation. Inflammation has been linked to causing depression and also plays a role in various other mental health concerns.

So what causes glycation? Eating excess carbohydrates and sugars leads to glycation. Now, this is not to villainize carbs or sugar because they do serve a purpose, but in Westernized countries there is often an excess consumption of them which is where the problem lies. Eating a lot of simple carbs and sugars causes the brain to become stiff and rigid. This can make it even more difficult to rewire the brain and make new connections. This means that your effort to think clearly, learn new skills or information, be fully present, feel calm in the face of anxiety/stress, and lift yourself out of depression is impaired.

Again, this is not to say you cannot consume carbs or sugars. It just needs to be in moderation. This also doesn’t mean that other foods may not impact you similarly either. This is where each person’s bio-individuality comes into play. For some individuals eating broccoli may be aggravating to their body and cause inflammation. And if this individual continues to eat broccoli on a regular basis it will continue to cause inflammation responses, which can lead to the issues discussed before. We also have to take into consideration what an individuals gut microbiome looks like because this too can have an impact what foods are appropriate for this person to eat and what causes a reaction or doesn’t.

Nutrition is a very nuanced topic and again, there isn’t a one answer fits all scenario here. To start addressing your diet for your mental health I would suggest keeping a food journal. Write down everything you eat and 20-30 mins following eating something take a moment to record how you feel physically and mentally. This can help you start to see patterns and what foods may be impacting your either positively or negatively. I usually recommend that people cut out most processed foods as well. Processed foods are foods that are going to be prepared and in a box, tin, or wrapped. But, take it a step farther and look at the ingredients. If you cannot pronounce the ingredients, make the food from home with the ingredients listed, or there is more than 7 ingredients listed avoid this food. I say this because there are some processed foods that can be ok for us and it is unrealistic for most of us to not consume anything processed. So, if you cut out most processed foods and start keeping a food journal to see what foods affect you, you are well on your way to making good changes for your mental health.

Avatar Chante Anderson

Written by Chante Anderson

Chante Anderson is a therapist in Oregon and Washington who specializes in individual therapy.