Eating a healthy diet is known to be good for your physical health, but did you know it is also good for your mental health?
In fact, one study found that increased fruit and vegetable consumption was strongly correlated of increased happiness, life satisfaction and well-being.Conversely, failing to eat a healthy diet can increase the risk of depression and anxiety.
Serotonin is a chemical in your body that is key in regulating your mood and sleep. Levels that are too high or too low can contribute to anxiety and depression. And while serotonin affects your brain, many people don’t realize that 95% of it is produced in the gut.
The microbiome in the gut has a delicate balance that is impacted by many factors, including the foods you eat. Therefore, it is best to limit foods that can cause inflammation in the gut, which can throw off the microbiome and alter the production of serotonin which, in turn, can affect mood.
Processed foods, and those that contain refined sugars — such as sweet desserts, baked goods, salad dressings and tomato sauce — shouldn’t make up the majority of your diet. On the other hand, there are foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan, which has been shown to increase serotonin levels. Try adding turkey, eggs, cheese, pineapple, tofu, salmon, nuts and seeds to your diet to help boost serotonin levels.
While you can increase your vitamin D from eating foods such as salmon, tuna fish, egg yolks, and fortified dairy products and cereals, or taking a supplement, our bodies also produce more of this “sunshine vitamin” when we’re exposed to the sun. That is why some people will experience SAD or depressive symptoms in the winter when the days are shorter, and the cold keeps people indoors.
Preventing or treating these deficiencies, either through diet or supplementation, can potentially improve, or even prevent symptoms of depression.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids — or Omega 3s — are probably best known for helping to keep your heart healthy. However, they are also believed to play an important role in regulating your mood.
Most commonly found in fish and fish oil supplements, Omega 3s have been shown to help stabilize mood and reduce depressive symptoms. Additionally, research has shown them to increase the efficacy of depression medications.
Scientists have found that in cultures with diets high in fish and whole foods (natural, unprocessed foods), rates of depression are significantly lower than in societies where processed foods and refined sugars are more often consumed.
However, good nutrition doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. An 80/20 rule – where 80% of what you’re eating is healthy – means more flexibility and less pressure.