Worldwide, around 971 million people suffer from mental health disorders with dementia being the fastest growing mental illness, affecting over 50 million people in the world. Mental health as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), refers to a state of well-being in which every individual realises their potential, is able to cope with normal stresses of life and can work productively and fruitfully, and contribute to his or her community. Health is not only based on the absence of disease but also by the wholesomeness that is brought about by good physical, mental and social well-being.

Mental health is therefore a very important aspect of a person’s general well-being and should be well managed. Apart from helping you deal better with challenges; diet is also a significant contributor to your mental health. This article aims to help you understand which foods are great for your mental health and which ones hurt your mental health.

What to eat and what not to eat

More emphasis has been placed on the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet which focus on increasing healthy fats and reducing sugar, respectively.

The Mediterranean diet comprises of foods that people in countries like Greece and Italy used to eat in the 60s. This diet consisted of:

  • Lots of vegetables and fruits, nuts, potatoes, whole grains, legumes, spices, seafood and spices,
  • Moderation in eating eggs, cheese, poultry and yoghurt,
  • Rarely eating red meat, and
  • No sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains and other highly processed foods.

The DASH diet on the other hand consists of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean meats. This diet was started when researchers identified that the risk of high blood pressure was low for people who followed a plant-based diet.

The two diets – the Mediterranean and DASH diets – have several common components: vegetables, fruits and whole grains. How do these foods help with mental health?

  • Leafy greens like spinach, and broccoli and turnips are high in folic acid. Deficiencies in folate is liked to high risk of depression, insomnia and fatigue. Selenium, which is contained in broccoli can also help in reproduction, metabolism of the thyroid hormone and functionality of the immune system as well as low levels of anxiety, depression and fatigue. Selenium is also contained in seafood, walnuts and Brazil nuts.
  • Whole grains products like oats, wild rice, beans and soy (complex carbohydrates) release glucose slowly making you feel fuller for longer, hence providing a steady source of fuel. Simple carbs on the other hand, lead to an increase in blood sugar and affect the brain in the same way abused drugs do.
  • Lean protein including fish, chicken, eggs and beans, keep serotonin levels in check. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is associated with depression.
  • Fermented foods like yoghurt contain probiotics that according to studies, reduce anxiety and stress hormones as well as affect the neurotransmitter GABA (an amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system).

Whether you are battling a mental health problem or trying to reduce your risk for any mental health problem, diet is a part you cannot ignore. Watch what you eat and improve your mental health.

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