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  • Writer's pictureDr. Arsalan Azam

Food and Mental Health: What to Know to Help

Updated: May 6

How Do Food & Mood Link?

Did you have a night out on the town with your friends last night, drinking alcohol and eating fast food? Do you feel a bit off the day after?

Many people would presume that feeling off after drinking alcohol would solely be linked to the ethanol. However, if you chomped down some greasy, high-fat food during your fun night out, that can also cause you to feel awful the day after.

Research from the Centre for Disease Control, the NHS, Mind, and even John Hopkins Medical School has examined the link between food and mental health, with an emphasis on the modern or Western diet and how it may be causing more mental health issues than it is resolving. 

Our team at Daydream MD believes in a holistic approach to treating mental illnesses of all kinds. In many cases, this requires our clients to look honestly at their diets and see if they may be causing issues with their mindset and well-being.

Here, we will guide you through the link between food and mood and help you to see the importance of not only your 5-a-day but also how salt, sugar, and fats can wreak havoc with your moods. 

The Food Groups

Returning to first grade for a minute, we will look at the food groups. 

The aforementioned 5-a-day looks at fruits and vegetables, which are high in vitamin C and can help prevent mental health problems and heart disease. You know the standard fruits and veggies—bananas, broccoli, carrots, beetroot, apples, and so on! They are also high in fiber, helping to feed your gut biome and help you feel full. 

Ideally, fruit and vegetables should be eaten raw, but for options like sweet potatoes, that’s not appealing, so steaming, boiling, or roasting are also good options.

Most people love carbohydrates, and it is easy to see why- they are tasty and high in naturally occurring sugars. However, when it comes to mental health and food, as well as maintaining a healthy weight, carbs can impact your blood sugar and need to be restricted in many instances. So, keep the portion size down!

They are essential for a balanced diet; this group includes pasta, rice, bread, potatoes, and grains. 

Protein should make up about 1/8th of your diet unless you are bodybuilding or pregnant. Proteins like salmon and other fish are natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which play a role in regulating the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. When these neurotransmitters drop, mental illnesses like depression and anxiety develop.

Protein-heavy foods include fish, nuts, pulses, meat, and eggs. So, be sure to add these to your eating plan!

Creams, butter, yogurt, and milk: Dairy products are one of the tastiest food groups, boasting rich foods like clotted cream and, of course, ice cream.

Dairy is also the main and easiest way to get calcium in a diet, as calcium deficiencies are linked to mental health conditions. If you eat a lot of dairy, you should engage in physical activity to compensate for it, as these foods are also fat!

The food group that has one of the most significant impacts on mental health (usually because it is paired with sugar) is fats. 

Fats in a diet can be healthy and unhealthy. Eating a lot of unhealthy fats can negatively impact your mental health. So, consume naturally occurring fats like fish, meat, oils, nuts, and avocados.

How do most people make bland food tastier? By adding salt or sugar. 

The National Institute of Mental Health has long been researching how salt and sugar impact mood regulation and has found that, when it comes to mood, these two culprits can cause more than a few issues!

Both sugar and salt increase metabolic activity temporarily, meaning that when you eat sugar, you will get a buzz of energy. However, you have to come down on the other side (a sugar crash), which will cause your mood to drop. 

The National Institute of Mental Health also found that sugar and salt negatively impact the gut biome, which has been linked to better well-being. Why? Because they don’t add anything to it and cause it to become starved, thus impacting serotonin. 

Salt also negatively impacts the cardiovascular system, as does sugar, meaning that overindulgence in these tasty treats can lead to heart arrhythmias, increase the chance of heart failure, and even increase the likelihood of cancer. 

Dietary Deficiencies

As odd as it sounds, many people in the Western world have a dietary deficiency of one kind or another. Food and mental health are intrinsically linked, with people who are dieting or aiming to reduce one group of food in their lives being the most heavily impacted by mood issues.

This is why our team, who offer ketamine therapy and psychedelic medicine, ask our customers to provide us with an insight into their diets. Perhaps surprisingly, for many, deficiencies in food can look like a mental health issue.

Looking after your mental health includes ensuring that you have a wide and varied diet to avoid deficiencies and keeping an eye out for signs that you may be deficient in one area. When it comes to food and mental health deficiencies, it is an accessible area to turn around, with people who may be deficient in one area of their five food groups being able to supplement with multivitamins.

How do you know if you have a dietary deficiency? This can look like pale and cold skin and hollow eyes. For some, it can look like issues with wound healing, irritability, and tiredness. Of course, it can also look like depression and anxiety, so if you aren’t sure why your mental health issues are not improving with therapy or medication, we advise you to talk to a doctor for some diagnostics!

Food and Mental Health: What to Know to Help - Daydream MD.

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