How can your diet impact your mental health?

Fact: Our brains are highly sensitive to what we eat. Not only does our diet influence our brain function, but it can also even change the structure of our brains. Deakin University recently did a study on how diets can associate with mental health. The study shows that diets containing large quantities of refined carbohydrates, fast foods and sugar-sweetened can reduce the size of the hippocampus. This is a part of the brain directly involved in learning and memory, as well as mental health and wellbeing

Every food choice we make can either help to balance our mood or stress us out. Worried your diet may be doing the latter?

Here are 3 diet tips to help boost your mood and support a healthy stress response.

Ditch the highly-processed, refined carbs

Highly-processed carbohydrates can negatively impact on our moods, mental health and wellbeing in three distinct ways:

  1. They displace healthier, more nutritious foods in your diet and can lead to potential nutritional deficiencies. Particularly vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and essential fatty acids).
  2. The high Glycaemic Index (GI) of these carbohydrates causes rapid increases and rebound drops in blood sugars that can cause mood swings.
  3. They trigger low-grade, chronic inflammation in the body, that can link to mental health conditions including anxiety and depression.
Nutrition tip: Don’t avoid all carb. Eat most of your carbohydrates in the form of vegetables, fresh fruit, legumes and minimally-processed whole grains.

Focus on your gut

It seems that one of the answers to a clear brain may lie with the bacteria within our digestive system. More than 90% of our dopamine and serotonin, feel-good neurotransmitters from our brain, are actually produced by beneficial gut bacteria.

To boost beneficial gut bacteria:

  1. Include fermented foods like live-cultured yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, tempeh and kimchi in your diet. These foods contain beneficial gut bacteria (probiotics).
  2. Base your diet on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. These foods have pre-biotic properties. They act like fertilizer for your good gut bacteria.

Stick to tradition

Study after study points to a good-quality, balanced diet being important to mental health. Recently, an Australian randomized control trial prescribed a Mediterranean diet for individuals with clinical depression. The research showed significant improvement in dietary quality and association with improvements in depressive symptoms.

But it’s not just the Mediterranean diet that has been shown to be helpful. Any ‘traditional diet’ can help lower the risk of mental health conditions. The common element seems to be whole, minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods. The benefits of the Mediterranean diet (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, fish) has been recognised for many years.
However, research also demonstrates that traditional Norwegian and Japanese diet may be just as beneficial in the prevention of anxiety and depression.  A reliance on unprocessed ‘real’ foods appears to be the key factor in these positive health findings.