What you eat can affect your mental health

Published on Thu, Apr 3, 2008 by Anne ArsenaultCertified Nutritionist

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What you eat can affect your mental health

By Anne Arsenault
Certified Nutritionist

They say that you are what you eat. So we can also say that your mental health is affected by what you eat. If your blood sugar is all over the place, then your moods will be too.

If you are eating foods devoid of B Vitamins and Omega 3 fats, then depression can set in. If your liver and arteries are clogged from high fat foods, then you will feel sluggish and grouchy. Your brain is very much affected by what you eat and how you digest it.

Keeping your blood sugar level by eating every three to four hours and always including protein, fiber and high complex carbohydrates in every meal, will also help to keep your emotional and mental health more level.

When you haven’t eaten for a while, or you consume the wrong foods, you will begin to feel shaky, irritable, moody, nauseated, spacey and you may also have a headache.

The wrong foods: sugars, white flour products, pop, cookies, cakes, white bread, basically processed foods that have little fiber or protein in them, can really set off the blood sugar imbalances. Eating fiber slows the release of the sugar into the blood stream and protein helps with sugar cravings.

Studies have shown that a person with depression may be lacking specific nutrients in their body: B vitamins, magnesium and Omega 3 fatty acids.

A deficiency of Omega 3 has shown to cause low energy, impaired learning, poor motor skills, allergies, anxiety, and post partum depression, depression, ADD, immune weakness, poor digestion and much more. Taking Omega 3 will help with calming the nervous system (so you’re better able to deal with stress), weight loss, inflammation, blood sugar regulation, cardiovascular health, skin problems and better mental performance. You can get Omega 3 from fish, fish oil capsules, walnuts, flax meal, hemp oil and other raw nuts and seeds.

B Vitamins are needed to form neurotransmitters; these are used to send messages from one nerve cell to the next, and to process the brain’s food, blood sugar.

Some good sources of B Vitamins are: whole grains, green leafy vegetables, eggs, brown rice, nuts, beans, blackstrap molasses, wheat germ, lecithin, oatmeal and brewer’s yeast. The B Vitamins work together to help your body deal with stress, to calm the nervous system and to provide energy.

Certain foods can cause specific reactions to some people; one person can tolerate dairy products, while another person can become irritable, angry, spacey, and nauseous and even get hives. Certain fats: trans fats, hydrogenated fats and fried fats can clog up the liver and arterial system, making a person feel sluggish, angry and tense. You must cut out these bad fats as much as possible while adding the good fats to your diet: flax oil, fish oil, hemp oil, olive oil, raw nuts and seeds.

These fats will help calm and nourish the body.

Food does play a much larger role in our mental health than we think, there have been studies done on children with ADD and how diet affects their condition.

The children were taken off foods that set off their ADD, like sugars, artificial colors and other chemicals and their behaviour got better. When the foods were re-introduced, the previous behavior started again.

A report published in the UK, says “Food can have an immediate and lasting effect on mental health and the behavior because of the way it affects the structure and function of the brain”.

The report claims they have clearly linked ADD, depression, Alzheimer’s and Schizophrenia to junk food diets and the absence of specific supplements, like Omega 3 fats and B Vitamins. “You are what you eat”, is taking on a greater meaning, so now is the time to pay closer attention to what you do eat.

If you cannot get it all in your diet, supplement with a good quality fish oil and multi-vitamin; fish is often contaminated by mercury, but the better companies will test for contamination in their supplements. As you get more nutrition in your body, you will find your cravings for sugars and bad fats will start to diminish. After a while on a healthier diet, you will also find that you’re mental and emotional health will also improve.

Anne Arsenault is a certified nutritionist in Abbottsford, B.C. She studied at Wild Rose College of Natural Healing in Calgary, Alberta and Packard School of Nutrition in Sudbury, Ontario