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Diet and Mental Health

Posted by Erin Fischer on

It’s not that hard to draw the links between diet and mental health. When we go on junk food binges, we don’t feel the greatest afterwards both mentally and physically, but when we eat healthily our moods are stable, we’re able to concentrate better and we just feel great overall. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t indulge or treat ourselves, but we should also be aware of what we are eating and how it will impact our mental health. Last week we looked at gut health and mental health and it seems natural to look at diet and mental health.  We often hear the saying you are what you eat so how can we be mentally stable with our diet?

Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, wholegrains, reduced fat dairy, legumes, seafood, and healthy oils is best for us. Which can be easier said than done, but if we focus on eating whole foods and less processed foods we are already halfway there. It’s also important to note that we eat with our eyes first, so things that look visually appealing are going to entice us more than things that don’t. We often hear about making food fun for kids and the same can be applied to adults. We’re more likely to eat something filled with a variety of different colours and textures than something that isn’t.

While there is no one diet that can help your mental health specifically there have been some interesting studies done into specific diets and how they can impact our mental health. Studies have shown that people who follow vegetarian and vegan diets are more at risk for depression. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t do these diets if you are depressed or are prone to depression, but it is something to be aware of.  

On the other hand, a Keto diet may benefit your mental health. A keto diet is a high fat, low carb diet and moderate protein diet, and it helps your body go into ketosis which is when your body burns fat instead of carbs for energy. It was originally developed in 1921 to help people with epilepsy manage their seizures but has become more popular recently, due to how it can help people lose weight effectively.  More recently it has shown promise in treating people with bipolar, schizophrenia and depression. However, as it is so restrictive it may cause depression in people as it can lead to vitamin deficiencies, not allowing people to eat their comfort foods and socially isolating, as it can make it harder to eat with friends and family.

If you have mental health issues eating a high in protein diet is proving to have good results as blood glucose is more likely to be remain steady which helps keep our mood steady. Also, many proteins (eggs, nuts, legumes, cheese, milk etc.) contain the amino acid tryptophan which may aid in the production of serotonin. As with any new diet talk to a health professional before you start it and do it wisely.

It's important to drink water throughout the day as even mild dehydration can cause irritability and restlessness. While it may be tempting to drink juice or soft drink these can cause our blood glucose to rise and are a way that we can increase our calorie intake without realising it and not receiving must sustenance in return. The same goes of coffee and energy drinks, be careful of how much you are drinking, as caffeine can have a negative impact on your mental health (as mentioned in this article).

It’s not just what we eat that can have an impact on our mental health but how we eat. Eating upright aids in digestion and eating with people helps us eat slower and allows us to connect with each other. While it may be hard to do this daily, it can help to prioritise a meal a week where you eat with friends and family. Eating at a table and not focusing on technology also helps us practice mindful eating as we’re more likely to think about what is on our plates and enjoy the food allowing it to settle, instead of just inhaling it and reaching for seconds.

It might be tempting to skip meals, but it can have a negative impact. We need to eat at regular times to help keep our blood glucose levels stable and to prevent binge eating which can result in excess body weight. It also helps if we eat at the same times so our body gets used to when to expect fuel. If we eat sugary foods on an empty stomach, it can cause our blood glucose to rise causing our heart rate to increase and making us feel jittery and on edge. While it may be tempting to snack throughout the day instead of eating at regular times it can be hard to keep track of what we eat. If you’re noticing you are prone to snacking it may be an idea to eat small nutritious meals frequently instead of 3 big meals, focusing on what you’re eating not just eating for the sake of it.

You might’ve heard that when you crave something it was what our bodies really need, but when you think about how often do you really crave a salad over chips or chocolate? Instead, cravings often have things to do with our emotions and stress levels. We often crave carbohydrates when we’re stressed, this is because carbohydrates have a calming effect on our bodies and boost production of serotonin. Of course, there are times when we crave things that aren’t food, this is called Pica. In these cases, our body is probably low on something and it’s best to speak to a medical professional, for example if you start to crave ice you are most likely low in iron. Giving into food cravings isn’t a bad thing as long as you don’t overindulge and only eat enough to satisfy the craving.

If you’re struggling to eat healthy make small changes gradually and don’t restrict yourself of your favourite foods instead just reduce the amounts and when you do eat them really enjoy them. It can be hard at times to eat a balanced diet but both your physical and mental health will thank you for it, start small and once you start to feel the benefits it will be easier to stick to.

Feel free to drop by, just say, ‘Hey Erin’ in strict confidence and you can be anonymous if you wish. Or, do not hesitate to leave a question in the comments below any time.


Relationship Between Diet and Mental Health in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review  Diet and mental health  Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food  Diet and mental health  Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing? |  Can What You Eat Affect Your Mental Health? Nutrition and mental health: What's the link? 

Keto and Low Carb – Stay for the Mental Health Benefits 

Vegetarianism and veganism compared with mental health and cognitive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis 

Coping with anxiety: Can diet make a difference?

Nutritional strategies to ease anxiety 

Diet for Depression | Foods that Help Depression 

Brain Food: What You Eat Impacts Your Mental Health | McLean Hospital

Does the Keto Diet Cause or Relieve Depression? 

What Do Food Cravings Mean? Facts and Myths, Explained  The Facts About Food Cravings 


About Erin Fischer

Am the qualified mental health professional at Barty Single Origin. Write topical pieces with a focus on mental health. Always available on chat, Just say, 'Hey Erin'. Passionate about reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness and letting people know it's A-OK to be not OK. Mental health advocate, Anxiety survivor, baker, crafter, cat lover, blogger, and always down to get a coffee and chat.


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