Eating well and consuming fewer processed foods can improve mental and emotional health.
We are taught from a young age that eating well helps us look and feel our best. We aren’t always told that good nutrition has a significant impact on our mental health as well. A healthy, well-balanced diet can improve our ability to think clearly and feel more alert. It also helps with concentration and attention span.
On the other hand, an inadequate diet can cause fatigue, impaired decision-making, and slow reaction time. In fact, a poor diet can aggravate and even cause stress and depression.
One of the most severe health issues is society’s reliance on processed foods. These foods are high in flour and sugar, and they train the brain to crave them instead of nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables.
Many of the processed foods we consume are highly addictive and stimulate our brain’s dopamine centers associated with pleasure and reward. To stop craving unhealthy foods, you must first stop eating them. When you eliminate added sugars and refined carbohydrates from your diet, you actually begin to change the physiology of your brain.
Eating well help with depression and stress
Sugar and processed foods can cause inflammation throughout the body and brain, potentially contributing to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. When we are stressed or depressed, we frequently turn to processed foods for a quick pick-me-up. During busy or difficult times, a cup of coffee replaces a full breakfast, and fresh fruits and vegetables are substituted for high-fat, high-calorie fast food. When you’re feeling down, a pint of ice cream turns into dinner (or you skip dinner altogether).
According to the American Dietetic Association, when people are depressed or stressed, they tend to eat too much or too little. If you overeat, you will experience sluggishness and weight gain. Eat too little, and the resulting exhaustion makes it difficult to break the habit. In either case, a poor diet during times of stress and depression exacerbates the situation. This is a vicious cycle, but it can be broken.
Focus on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, on improving your mental health. Dark green leafy vegetables, in particular, are beneficial to the brain. Brain foods include nuts, seeds, and legumes such as beans and lentils.
Eating well will help with healthy gut
Researchers continue to prove the old adage that you are what you eat, most recently by investigating the strong link between our intestines and the brain. Our gut and brain are physically linked by the vagus nerve, and the two can communicate with one another. While the gut can influence emotional behavior in the brain, the brain can also change the type of bacteria in the gut.
According to the American Psychological Association, Gut bacteria produce a variety of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate physiological and mental processes, including mood. Gut bacteria are thought to produce 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, a mood stabilizer. It is thought that stress suppresses beneficial gut bacteria.
Eating well with intention
One of the first steps in ensuring you’re getting well-balanced meals and snacks is to pay attention to how you feel when you eat and what you eat. Nutritionists recommend keeping a food journal because many do not pay close attention to our eating habits. Keeping track of what, where, and when you eat is a great way to gain insight into your eating habits.
If you overeat when you are stressed, it may be beneficial to stop what you are doing and write down your feelings. You might discover what’s really bothering you if you do this. If you are undereating, it may be beneficial to schedule five or six smaller meals rather than three large ones.
More information on mindful and emotional eating can be found here.
Stress and depression can be severe at times and cannot be managed on their own. Eating disorders can develop in some people. If you have trouble controlling your eating habits, whether you eat too much or too little, your health may be jeopardized. You should seek professional help if this is the case. Asking for assistance is never a sign of weakness or failure, especially when dealing with situations too challenging to handle alone.
Food for the Brain
Nutrition is required for the brain and nervous system to build new proteins, cells, and tissues. Your body requires a variety of carbohydrates, proteins, and minerals to function correctly. Nutritionists recommend eating various foods for meals and snacks to get all of the nutrients that improve mental functioning, rather than eating the same meals every day.
The following are the top three foods to include in a healthy mental diet:
- Complex carbohydrates like brown rice and starchy vegetables can provide you with energy. Quinoa, millet, beets, and sweet potatoes have more nutritional value and will keep you satisfied longer than sugar and candy.
- Lean proteins — provide energy to your body, allowing it to think and react quickly. Protein-rich foods include chicken, meat, fish, eggs, soybeans, nuts, and seeds.
- Fatty acids are necessary for the proper functioning of your brain and nervous system. They can be found in fish, meat, eggs, nuts, and flaxseeds.
Healthy Eating Suggestions
Eating well includes avoiding processed snack foods that can impair your ability to concentrate, such as potato chips. Avoid sugary snacks like candy and soft drinks, which cause energy spikes and crashes.
Consume a lot of healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado. This will benefit your cognitive function.
When hunger strikes, reach for a healthy snack like fruit, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, baked sweet potatoes, or edamame. This will provide you with more energy than packaged foods.
Create and stick to a healthy shopping list.
Don’t shop when you’re hungry because you’re more likely to make unhealthy impulse purchases.
Consider where and when you eat. Avoid eating in front of the television, which can be distracting and lead to overeating. Instead, find a quiet place to sit, relax, and pay close attention to what you’re eating. Slowly chew. Enjoy the flavor and texture.
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