How Nutrition Can Impact Your Mental Health

As trite as it may be, there's quite a lot of truth to the statement, "You are what you eat." Not only do the foods we consume affect our physical well-being, but they can have a significant influence on our mental health as well. It's no secret that some foods can make us feel better than others. Healthy foods rich in vitamins and other nutrients can often supply us with bountiful energy that encourages momentum, leading to an elevated mood. While others, mainly with copious amounts of sugar, will inspire only inconsistent bursts of energy that eventually cause us to crash. Think about the result of eating that heavy, greasy meal. Typically, you feel sluggish, unmotivated, and ready to crawl under the covers. After all, they don't call it comfort food for nothing!

The truth is our diet has a direct correlation to our brain’s functionality, with two groups of foods that often have negative effects:

  • Foods that trick the brain into releasing chemicals we may be lacking, altering our moods only temporarily, such as caffeine and chocolate, and
  • Foods that prevent the conversion of other foods into nutrients that our brain needs, such as saturated fat found in butter, lard, and palm oil. 

As busy professionals, it can be easy to make a quick stop at the closest burger joint for lunch or dinner, or both, thinking you'll work it off at the gym later. But with severe implications on our mental well-being over time, it's important to prioritize a healthy, nutritious diet.

The Second Brain

The connection between our diet and our emotions stems from the close relationship between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract, often called the “second brain.” Inside the GI tract, you’ll find billions of bacteria that influence the production of neurotransmitters that support communication between the gut and the brain. Two of these chemicals you might recognize are dopamine and serotonin. As we consume healthy foods, we produce more of the "good" bacteria which assists in the growth of these neurotransmitters. This allows the brain to receive the "happy chemicals" much more easily. In contrast, a steady junk food diet results in poor communication between the gut and the brain, hindering these chemicals from sending the message and, as such, lowering your mood.

Traditional Diets vs. Modern Western Diets

Studies have been comparing traditional diets to western diets and the staggering differences in their effect on our mental health. Traditional diets, like the Mediterranean and Japanese diets, consist mainly of vegetables, seafood, herbs, garlic, and grains and are seen to reduce the symptoms of depression significantly. Studies have shown that when compared to a western diet, these traditional diets lower the risk of depression by 25 to 35%. A key factor in these numbers is that traditional diets contain low amounts of processed foods and sugars, which in western diets act as primary ingredients. As the communication between the gut and the brain begins to weaken due to over-consumption of unhealthy foods, our overall mood and energy level will eventually decline.

It's important to understand that we should consume everything in moderation. A burger and fries every once in a while won't make you depressed, but it's worth knowing that making it a constant habit just might. There's no denying that eating better creates a difference we can truly feel, both in our physical stamina and happiness. If you find yourself having a series of bad days with little to no energy, consider what types of food you gravitate towards at the end of the day. The last thing you want is to perpetuate the cycle of needing comfort. 

Struggling to find the time (or motivation) to cook a healthy meal, or simply eat healthy? Let Modern Concierge free up time by taking care of your to-do list, so you can focus on what matters most. 

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