A lot of us may have made a new years resolution several weeks ago to get healthy, lose weight, or get in shape. Usually it is because we want to look better, but is there more to our health than that? Of course we know eating healthy and exercising is good for our physical health, but it is very important for our mental health as well.
What is a healthy diet?
Before we talk about why a healthy diet is important, let us first look at what exactly a healthy diet is. The USDA has turned away from the food pyramid in recent years, and now uses a plate to represent what we should be eating. Of our plate, about half should be fruits and vegetables, 1/4 of it should be whole grains, and 1/4 should be a lean protein. They recommend a small amount dairy, and to limit sugars, alcohol, fats, and refined grains. Most people in westernized countries do not tend to eat this way. We pick up fast food at McDonald’s when we’re in a hurry, we tend to eat deep fried chicken nuggets and french fries, we cover things in fatty cream based dressings, and eat loads of processed foods.
Benefits of Healthy Eating
One of the things I want to stress in eating for our mood, is eating unprocessed, unfrozen, and fresh foods. Obviously, not everyone can afford to eat this way, but the more fresh and unprocessed food you are able to eat, the better. Most of the processed and unhealthy foods that we eat promote inflation in the body, which can increase our risk for heart disease, diabetes, and risk of worsening auto-immune diseases. It has also been found that when our brains experience inflammation, we are at an increased risk for experiencing depression. Therefore, reducing fats, sodium, and other inflammatory promoting foods in our diet, we can decrease our risk of depression.
Studies have found that there is a correlation between the quality of one’s diet in adolescence, and experiencing depression. Additionally, another study in the UK found that when those who ate diet of healthy fresh food, compared to those who ate a diet high in processed foods experienced a 26% decreased risk of experiencing depression. They also add, “By contrast people with a diet high in processed food had a 58% higher risk of depression than those who ate very few processed foods.” It has also been found that eating a diet low in fat and salt, and high in Omega-3 and antioxidants and decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life.
Keep in mind
It is important to keep in mind, that while these results are important, they are not necessarily saying that the unhealthy diet is cause of depression experienced in these studies. However, it is not ruling it out either. We know from these studies that there is some sort of relationship between the two. While we cannot say that changing to a healthy diet is guaranteed to improve your mental health, it is likely that it will have some sort of beneficial affect.
As a result of this recent insight, some doctors have been turning to Nutrient Therapy to treat mental health disorders. Doctors who specialise in this will test your blood and/or urine to examine which nutrients or minerals your are deficient in, and recommend doses of certain supplements to correct this imbalance. Obviously, it is better to obtain the correct nutrient balance naturally through your diet, however sometimes dietary restrictions for food availability can make this difficult. Nutrient Therapy is not for everyone, but the research seems to be showing it is beneficial for some.
It is clear through the research that there is a correlation between unhealthy diet, and less favourable mental health outcomes. While nutrient therapy seems to be helpful, more research is needed in the area to determine quite how helpful it is. However, knowing that this correlation exists, why not at least try to see if better diet will help you? Remember, our body needs the right balance of foods and nutrients to be able to make the hormones and chemicals our body needs. If our balance is off, sometimes they cannot be made properly.
If you would like to learn more about your own diet, and what nutrients and minerals you are obtaining naturally, the SuperTracker offered by the USDA is a great tool to see where you stand. Remember, to get the most out of these tracking tools, you must include all meals, snacks, and drinks (including alcohol) to see where your diet stands. Also checkout this article for more information on how diet can affect your mental health.
Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.