Mental health nutrition: how to nourish your mental health through nutrition

The MIND 24-7 Team | January 26, 2024

Our third blog focuses on the critical link between nutrition and mental wellbeing as we continue our journey towards a healthier mind in the New Year. The saying “you are what you eat” is true not just for the body but also for the mind. Nourishing your body with the right nutrients can be a giant step towards a healthier, happier you. Let’s talk about how nutrition affects mental health, discuss tips to boost your mental health nutrition, and explore how MIND 24-7 can help. 

How nutrition affects mental health

While focusing on your nutritional resolutions, don’t forget the importance of mental health. After all, research shows a strong connection between what we eat and our mental health. According to an in-depth review of many different studies published in the World Journal of Psychiatry, eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains lowers the risk of depression and anxiety by 30%. When we fuel our bodies and brains with a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients, we set ourselves up for better mental health, mood, and cognitive function. Let’s look at a few ways nutrition affects mental health. 

  • Brain fuel: Our brains use about 20% of our body’s energy. To run smoothly, our brains need a steady supply of glucose, best found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. These sources give us consistent glucose release that is better than the quick spike and crash from sugary foods. Our brains also rely on certain nutrients, like B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, to create chemicals called neurotransmitters that regulate mood, stress, and sleep. Eating a rainbow of multicolored fruits and vegetables, as well as healthy proteins, fats, and whole grains, will help you get all the nutrients you need to think and feel your best. 
  • Gut and brain connections: Did you know that your stomach and brain are closely connected? All of the bacteria in your gut play a big role in your mood and mental wellbeing. Eating a diet rich in prebiotics found in fiber-rich foods and probiotics found in fermented foods can help your stomach and mental health feel good. 
  • Inflammation and mental health: Chronic inflammation in the body may make certain mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety, a bit more intense. Some foods can make inflammation worse, like processed and sugary foods, and other foods like fruits and vegetables can lower inflammation and help your body and mind heal. 
  • Diet and sleep: What we eat can affect how well we sleep at night. The quality of our sleep affects how we feel. Consuming certain foods and drinks before bedtime can help us feel more relaxed, setting the stage for a restful night. These foods and drinks include warm milk, bananas, and chamomile tea. While chamomile tea and warm milk are widely known to help induce a feeling of calmness, the sleep-inducing potential of bananas may come as a surprise. But actually, bananas are high in magnesium, tryptophan, and potassium, which all promote relaxation. The better quality of sleep we get, the better we feel overall. 

What are the benefits of good nutrition for mental health?

Good nutrition can make a big difference in mental health, and the benefits go far beyond improving physical wellbeing. Here are some ways the food we eat can help our mental health. 

  • Regulates mood: Specific nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, have been linked to better mood regulation. It’s because fatty acids play a role in making neurotransmitters like serotonin that help keep our moods stable. 
  • Raises energy: Balanced nutrition makes sure our bodies and brains have the necessary energy to feel strong and concentrate all day long. 
  • Lowers stress: Nutrient-dense foods help regulate stress hormones, creating a sense of calmness and lowering stress. 
  • Improves sleep: Eating a balanced diet helps us get certain nutrients, such as magnesium and tryptophan, that help us relax and get a deeper sleep. Foods like nuts, seeds, whole grains, and dairy can help us get better sleep. 
  • Lowers risk: Good nutrition may not be a cure, but it can play a major role in preventing, managing, or healing conditions like depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline. 
  • Sharpens thinking: Vitamins like B12 and folic acid are important for brain health and cognitive function. Deficiencies can lead to fatigue, brain fog, and struggles with concentration. 
  • Boosts self-esteem: Making healthy food choices can lead to a positive self-image and improve confidence. 

Mental health nutrition tips

Let’s discuss foods that are great for mental health, what to avoid, and strategies to take. 

  1. Eat a balanced diet: Aim for a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. This is the best way to get all the nutrients your brain and body need for overall health, including mental wellbeing. 
  2. Eat omega-3 fatty acids: As discussed above, these powerful fats support brain health and may help with mood regulation. Foods such as salmon, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts will help you get this valuable nutrient. 
  3. Enjoy complex carbohydrates: Our bodies and brains need carbohydrates to thrive, but not all carbohydrates are the same. Choose complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, and vegetables. These foods give us a steady supply of energy and can help stabilize blood sugar levels, reducing mood swings and helping us feel our best. 
  4. Get protein-rich foods: Include sources of lean protein in your meals, such as poultry, fish, beans, lentils, tofu, and dairy. Protein powers the brain chemicals called neurotransmitters that influence our mood. 
  5. Hydrate: Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. For an added boost, infuse your water with electrolytes in the form of a store-bought powder or a sprinkle of Himalayan salt, a drop of maple syrup, and a squeeze of lemon. Electrolytes help our bodies absorb water without washing away all the vitamins and minerals. Staying well-hydrated helps us think clearly and have a steady mood. 
  6. Limit processed foods and sugar: Everyone deserves a satisfying snack, but if you are looking to improve your mental health, it’s best to opt for fruits or vegetables over anything you can find in a vending machine. Highly processed foods and sugary snacks can make our energy levels spike and then crash, leading to rollercoaster moods. 
  7. Limit caffeine: Drinking caffeine in the afternoon or evening can make it hard to go to sleep at night. And what’s one of the biggest stressors on mental health? Not enough sleep. Keeping your daily brew to just the morning will make it easier to get good sleep at night and feel your best throughout the day. 
  8. Limit alcohol: If you consume alcohol, it is best to do so in moderation. Too much alcohol can affect mood and disrupt sleep, making it hard to feel healthy and well. 
  9. Get vitamin-rich foods: For the best mental health, it is important to get enough vitamins, particularly B vitamins and vitamin D. Eating whole grains, leafy greens, lean proteins, and fatty fish will help you get all of these nutrients. For an added boost of vitamin D, step outside and soak up the sun. 
  10. Eat mindfully: Practice mindful eating by paying attention to the feelings of hunger and fullness. Eating slowly and really savoring your food can make the eating experience nicer and help you feel good about what you are eating. 

Mental health nutrition support at MIND 24-7

MIND 24-7 stands as a beacon of support, offering walk-in services to address your mental health needs. Whether you are looking for someone empathetic to listen to your needs and help you on your journey or you need assistance during a mental health emergency, we are here to help. Our experienced professionals take a whole-body approach, considering nutrition and beyond, so they can help you on your journey toward a more vibrant you.  

Through Express care, we offer walk-in mental health services for patients who want to see a certified professional and quickly be on their way. Through Crisis care, we provide walk-in emergency treatment for children and adults. Through Progressions, we provide ongoing individual and group counseling and peer support for patients for up to 90 days. Our mental health care services include physical and psychiatric evaluation, medication review and refill, care planning, referrals, and lab services (when needed).

We currently have several locations in the Phoenix area, open every day of the year, all hours of the day and night, including holidays. 

For help with a mental health evaluation and to get same-day mental health care, visit one of our convenient locations or text/call 1-844-MIND247.