Eating healthy all the time is hard, even with the best of intentions. You start out your day with a green smoothie at breakfast, eat a big salad for lunch, and enjoy a healthy dinner with your partner at the end of the day.
Since you’ve done so good all day, there’s no reason not to reward yourself with some ice cream or a slice of cake before bed, right? Unfortunately, unhealthy snacking can do a lot more damage than you might realize.
We’ve all been told that empty carbs and sugary food lead to weight gain and health problems. But, no one really talks about the impact that nutrition has on your moods and mental health. And, at a time when the entire country is under extreme stress, it’s something we should all be thinking about.
Here’s how nutrition and mental health are connected, plus what you can do to ensure that you’re getting enough of the nutrients you need most during this stressful time.
Nutrition and Mental Health: How the Two Are Connected
The link between nutrition and mental health stems from the close relationship between the brain and the gut. Many nutrition experts consider the gut to be a bit like a second brain. It all comes down to the billions of bacteria that reside in your gut.
These bacteria aren’t just along for a free ride, they actually have jobs to do. One of those jobs is controlling the production of mood-boosting serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters, which are chemical substances that carry messages between the brain and gut.
Eating a healthy diet keeps the gut healthy, which supports the production of those mood-boosting neurotransmitters. Unfortunately, sugar-laden junk food leads to inflammation in the digestive system, decreasing the production of neurotransmitters.
When neurotransmitters are being produced at optimum levels, positive messages are sent to your brain, which is reflected in your mental health and moods. When production is low, so are your moods.
The Impact of Sugar on Your Gut and Mental Health
A diet that’s high in sugar can have a serious impact on your gut and mental health. Sugar is a leading cause of inflammation throughout the body, especially in the gut. Even worse, it feeds the bad bacteria in your digestive system, hampering the production of good bacteria.
When we eat sugar, it provides a temporary boost to dopamine and other positive neurotransmitters, which is why we crave it. That brief boost is also what causes the sudden sugar rush that quickly turns into a sugar crash, leaving you feeling lethargic and moody.
When you limit or eliminate sugar from your diet and focus on healthy foods, your moods remain steadier and your ability to focus is stronger. In fact, science shows that good nutrition can reduce anxiety and depression, while an unhealthy diet increases the risk of neurodegenerative disease and dementia later in life.
Optimizing Your Nutrition for Better Mental Health
Ready to optimize your nutrition for better mental health? Here’s what to include and what to take away.
- Eliminate Processed Foods
Processed foods are full of additives that can cause inflammation in the gut, such as preservatives, artificial flavors, and dyes. This has been shown to increase feelings of depression for certain people, so it’s best to eliminate them from your diet as much as possible. If it comes ready-made in a can, bag, or box, it’s likely processed.
- Include More Organic Whole Foods
If you’re interested in supporting your mental health with nutrition, the majority of the foods you eat should be organic whole foods. This includes fresh vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats like olive oil and avocados. These foods contain the trace nutrients, vitamins, and minerals required for good physical and mental health.
- Make an Organic Multivitamin Part of Your Daily Routine
Nutrient deficiencies can harm your overall mental and physical health. It can be tough to get all the vitamins and minerals you need from diet alone. We all have those days where we don’t have the energy or time to eat as well as we should, so taking a daily multivitamin is essential. SmartyPants Vitamins organic gummies not only taste great, but they also include all of the key nutrients your body needs for better mental health during times of stress and anxiety.
- Eat More High-Fiber Foods
High-fiber foods are beneficial for a couple of reasons. First, fiber helps the body to absorb glucose gradually. Glucose is a natural sugar found in many foods, and it can lead to the same high and lows you experience when eating other sugars. Second, fiber supports a healthy digestive system, which we know is key for mental health as well. Fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are all high in fiber.
- Antioxidants Are Essential
Antioxidants are essential for brain and gut health because they fight inflammation. Antioxidant-rich foods include dark chocolate, many spices, berries, and green leafy vegetables. Make sure antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E and minerals like zinc and selenium are part of your multivitamin formula as well.
- Folate Isn’t Just for Pregnancy
Women of childbearing age need folate to prevent birth defects, but that’s not the only reason it’s important. Folate also supports dopamine and serotonin production, making it crucial for mental health as well. Be sure it’s included in your multivitamin and include plenty of leafy greens and orange fruits and veggies in your diet to increase your intake of folate.
- Get Your Daily Dose of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is used to produce serotonin, so it’s essential for mood and mental health. Our bodies get vitamin D from sun exposure, but that’s not ideal or safe, so be sure it’s included in your multivitamin.
- Increase Your Magnesium Intake
Magnesium is crucial for digestive and mental health because the good bacteria in your gut will suffer if your levels are low. It’s also necessary for muscle and nerve function, as well as regulating the heartbeat. Eat more nuts, legumes, leafy greens, and dark chocolate to increase your intake, and be sure it’s also in your daily multivitamin.
- Eat Probiotic Foods Daily
Probiotics are good bacteria that live in the digestive system. Be sure to eat probiotic foods like yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut every day to support your gut. Probiotics can also be found in high-quality multivitamins.
Some Final Thoughts
Optimizing your nutrition for better mental health will take some work, but it’s something we can all benefit from right now. Remember, you don’t have to do it alone! The health coaches at Fitmo can help you stay motivated and create a plan to reach your goals.