How to Eat for Better Mental Health and Physical Health
Can your diet influence your mental health? You may have been cautioned that food and drink are often used as a way to cope with emotions or trauma. But what about using your diet to bring about better mental health? As a support system for your physical health?
Because we know that better mental health is critical to your physical health, we wanted to take a look at how some things in your life can influence your mental health:
- Other activities
Knowledge is, indeed, power. And what we’ve learned about diet and your overall health is food for thought. We are happy to share our findings with you today.
Diet and Mental Health
There are many scientific studies on the relationship between mental health and your diet. While some studies present a positive correlation between the two, understandably, this is one of those areas of expertise where it’s really hard to isolate the factors. For example:
One study on mental health in children and adolescents documented a solid trend between children and adolescents who had healthy diets having better mental health than those with poorer diets. But these studies can be complicated. Might this correlation also be influenced by other factors?
- Might these kids and teens with healthy diets suggest more affluent homes or homes with better healthcare? To be sure to eliminate this factor, you could keep the study groups similar in income, family structures, lifestyles, and attentiveness of the parents, etc.
- Do studies like this take genetics into consideration? People who come from families with histories of complicated mental health may be predisposed to developing mental health issues, either by learning patterns of behavior or from developing similar traits or mental illnesses.
So, while many studies suggest a positive correlation between diet and mental health, and many dieticians and mental health experts support the idea, it’s a little harder to prove than you might think.
Think of it like this: eating a healthy diet is part of taking excellent care of your mind and body. This improves mental health, for sure. And some foods have healthy antioxidants or other compounds that contribute to improved overall health. Some foods help support brain health, for example, or help support a healthy sleep cycle, and these can make good additions to your healthy diet.
And we all know when you improve your physical health, take good care of yourself, and prioritize your mental wellness, then we create a trifecta for better mental health.
You Are What You Eat
Let’s take a look at some of the healthiest things you can eat when you are on a path to improved mental wellness and physical health.
Eat a Balanced Diet
There’s no doubt among nutritionists and medical experts that what you eat affects your quality of life and your overall health.
The CDC keeps an updated “Dietary Guide for Americans” (which you can read online or download) and also this handy dietary and caloric intake guide. Many healthcare professionals follow these general guidelines for healthy eating and make adjustments based on your genetic predispositions, weight management needs, or other mental and physical health conditions.
Speak with your doctor concerning your diet and all of your mental health needs so you can be sure you are making the right choices that “cover all the bases,” so to speak.
Try the Mediterranean Diet
One dietary lifestyle that has gaining a lot of attention and support is the Mediterranean Diet. This is a diet based on the lifestyle and eating habits of those who live in communities near the Mediterranean Sea.
This diet is rich in antioxidants and superfoods, and many believe it supports brain health. Here’s a general description of the Mediterranean Diet, which is endorsed by the American Heart Association:
- This diet prioritizes fish and poultry in low or moderate amounts as the meat source. This provides Omega 3s and other antioxidants, as well as lean protein.
- The foundation of the Mediterranean Diet is fruits, vegetables, bread, grains, nuts and seeds, and legumes.
- This diet also includes dairy and eggs.
- The oil for this diet is, of course, olive oil, which is native to Mediterranean regions.
What’s not included in this lifestyle are surgery sodas, desserts (try fruit instead!), and calorie-packed fast foods, trans fats, chemicals and preservatives, or snacks with little to no nutritional value.
Superfoods are called as such because they are packed with compounds that benefit your body and your brain. Here are some of the go-to superfoods to make you feel better (and look better!), both of which can help you have better mental health and physical health:
- Blueberries – With flavonoids and antioxidants.
- Avocados – Rich in dietary fibers for gut health.
- Green leafy vegetables – Good source of folic acid, which is crucial for brain health, women’s health, and your DNA. Green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale also provide vitamins A, C, and calcium (an essential mineral) for strong bones, good blood circulation, and healthy, strong teeth.
- Fish – Harvard Health provides a list of the best sources for Omega-3s: salmon, tuna steaks, mackerel, herring, trout, anchovies, and sardines.
- Whole grains – Like whole grain quinoa, oatmeal, and millet.
- Beets – AARP documents a myriad of ways to support brain health and heart health for their readers, including eating beets or juicing them. Adding beets to your diet can help to manage a healthy blood pressure for improved heart health.
- Plant proteins like nuts and tofu.
Other superfoods you may want to add to your shopping list: detoxifying sea vegetables like seaweed or wakame, fruits and berries like acai or kiwi, immune-boosting citrus fruits, or cleansing cranberries. In fact, load your cart with more colorful fruits and vegetables than fats and meats, and you are on your way to a more nutritional, well-balanced diet. Bypass more processed foods like snack crackers, chips, cereals, or candies for more nutritious and plant-based choices.
Eat Foods for Sleep
Ever tried to keep a positive attitude following a terrible night’s sleep? Sleep is essential to your mental health, just as much as it is necessary for your physical health. Poor sleep hygiene can affect your moods, make it difficult for you to wake up feeling refreshed, and can muddy your cognitive performance.
Did you know that some foods help to support your sleep? They contain natural drowsy compounds that can help you ease into sleep more comfortably and naturally. Try some of these foods for sleep:
- Dairy foods: Milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese
- Nuts: Peanuts, almonds
- Seeds: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
- Dried dates
- Red meat
Supplements to Support Wellness
Better mental health is a component of an overall goal: wellness. Because this involves your mental health, physical health, dental health, relationships, self-esteem, and many other elements, there are a variety of supplements that address these issues.
The idea here is that if better mental health is what you’re after specifically, then it helps to support your body and mind in a variety of ways from your diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits, and also any vitamins or supplements you choose to take for your wellness.
For example, you may take fish oils to support your skin and eyes, and doing so helps to make you feel more empowered because you are doing what you can to care for your body. Another example would be to take popular wellness CBD tinctures or CBD gummy options that offer various CBD benefits such as improved mood and supported sleep, which help to support your mental health in a variety of ways.
There are many other supplements that claim to support mental wellness and cognitive health, but some of them have not been evaluated for efficacy or safety. Their effectiveness may be less based on medical science and lean more on anecdotal evidence or even myth.
Ask your doctor for their medical advice before beginning any supplement regimen or home remedy. Your doctor or a nutritionist are good resources to answer your questions about these supplements and your overall diet.
Don’t Completely Rule Out Comfort Foods
The CDC says comfort foods are OK as long as you eat them with balance and limit them in your diet if they aren’t healthy choices. Better mental health also means caring for yourself and feeling good. It’s OK to have that macaroni you’ve been craving while you settle in to watch a favorite movie – just be careful to balance those “cheat days” with other healthy diet choices that support your body’s best health.
The CDC also recommends trying lower-calorie versions of your favorite comfort foods. We kind of like this idea because your mental health gets a boost when you have fun – so make it a fun mission to find recipes to try or healthier ways to cook your foods.
Drink More Water
More than half of your body is made up of water. Cells and tissues need water to function and this includes your brain which produces hormones and chemicals that influence your mood. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Medical News Today has a good guide on how much water you need to consume each day based on your age.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Find better mental wellness by improving how well you feel overall. Your body is a system of many systems that work synergistically to keep your cells hydrated, your brain functioning, your heart beating, etc. If any one of these systems is suffering, or if you get an injury that suddenly impacts your quality of life, your mental health can suffer as well.
Weight and physical health are very closely intertwined. Your weight is often an outward indicator of how efficiently your body is working and what you are doing to fuel your system.
The CDC makes recommendations on how much and what kinds of exercise can benefit your overall health and help you to maintain a healthy weight. They also provide a downloadable age-based exercise chart. For improved health and wellness, the CDC recommends that adults:
- Move around more and sit less.
- Incorporate a regular mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
- Do muscle-strengthening activities
Sleep Hygiene and Mental Health
We mentioned sleep hygiene earlier, but this one bears a more thorough discussion on how your sleep affects your mental health, and vice versa. Think of how consults often go with a therapist. What is one of the very first questions they ask you – How are you sleeping? And if it makes top priority for your therapist, that indicates just how important sleep can be for your health.
In the article “Sleep and Mental Health,” Psychology Today shares that good sleep can improve your mood, productivity, and quality of life. But they also point out that the relationship between sleep and mental health disorders is a little more complicated. It’s best for your medical doctor to diagnose any mental illness or mental health disorder and recommend treatment for it.
Improving your sleep is a good place to start when you want to improve your mental health or physical health. Think of it as the “root” of your wellness. This is why, as a wellness company, we work so hard to develop the very best in sleep support products and provide a wide variety of information for our consumers to help them create a good sleep hygiene practice, daily CBD regimen, and information on cannabinoids, ashwagandha, melatonin, and other ingredients in our supportive sleep aids.
Other Supportive Mental Health Practices
- Get regular physical health checkups.
- Ask your doctor about any mental health concerns, concerns about your diet or sleep, and how you might make improvements.
- Don’t be ashamed or reluctant to speak with a therapist.
- Set clear boundaries with the people in your life so that you can care for yourself, work on your mental health, heal trauma, or build self-esteem.
- Share with others that you are working on your mental wellness. You may find a lot of support from the people in your circle.
- Minimize or remove the vices and unhealthy coping mechanisms you’ve developed, especially when it comes to what you put in your body.
- Do something fun each day – having something to look forward to, developing your curiosity, or getting creative can all be paths to better mental health and more balance in your life.
- Release that which no longer serves your mental well-being: toxic relationships, weighty memories, worries, guilt, and most certainly poor habits that create negativity in your life.
- Practice gratitude each day!
For More Information
To learn more about ways you can improve your quality of life for better mental health, improve your physical health, or find a greater sense of wellness in your life, bookmark our wellness blog. We educate on topics such as meditation, exercise recovery, and even how CBD can help your pets!