Eating for Mental Health

Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are the norm for many people’s lives. Situations like an irregular thyroid, lack of sleep, hormonal imbalance, low dopamine or serotonin and digestive imbalance can all affect mood and mental health. But often we don’t consider food as an influencing factor.

Let’s look at a typical diet – you’re eating mostly good food, some take out and craving something sweet in the afternoon and evening. This tells me that you can take charge and do better for yourself.

Two diets that seem to have a positive impact on mental health are the Mediterranean diet (encouraging more healthy fats) and the DASH diet (focusing on reducing sugar intake).

In a recent study, it was found that omega-3 supplementation resulted in a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms in medical students. Research has also found that closely following the Mediterranean lifestyle (diet, physical activity and socialization) made people 50% less likely to develop depression.

If a structured diet isn’t your thing, try upping your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy proteins (like legumes), whole grains, fatty fish and olive oil (or other sources of omega-3s). At the same time, try to reduce your sugar intake. Sugar has been linked to decreases in a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which can play a role in anxiety and depression. Another study of 23,245 people over 22 years found that men who ate 67 grams or more of sugar per day were 23% more likely to develop depression over five years, compared to those who consumed less than 40 grams a day.

There’s also incredible research showing that the gut microbiome and its communication with the brain can be linked to anxiety and depression. The number one thing that influences your gut health is: food.

What else can I do?

Movement and Exercise
The female brain is more prone to depression and the male brain more prone to spectrum disorders. Because the brain produces serotonin mostly efficiently 2 hours after sunrise, women benefit from morning exercise to combat depression. Conversely, because dopamine is most efficiently produced from 10pm to midnight, it’s better for men to exercise at night to combat spectrum disorders.

Seek Medical Advice
Speak with your doctor, consult your psychologist and stick to the plans you’ve decided on together. This is intended to support your mental health routine and does not replace anything that your doctor is prescribing or recommending.

Listen to my segment on NewsTalk1010 radio with Jerry Agar for #BellLetsTalk Day 2019:

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