Nutrition and Mental Health

By: Stuart Porter, NP


5 Types of Food That Could Be Affecting Your Mental Health 

Did you know that nutrition and mental health are directly linked? Your brain and gut are connected through the vagus nerve, so it’s no wonder that what you eat can affect not only how you feel physically but also mentally. Previously on our blog, we’ve discussed the importance of diet and nutrition in relation to mental health , but in this post, we will discuss five different types of foods that could be negatively affecting your mental health.  

1. Trans Fats and Saturated Fats 

The first type of food that could be affecting your mood is fat, more specifically bad fat. The worst type of fat is trans fat, which is an ingredient in a lot of pre-packaged food as well as fast food. Trans fats increase the bad cholesterol in your bloodstream and reduce your good cholesterol.  

Trans fats also cause inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, clinical depression , and other chronic disorders. In fact, one study  showed that just 1.5 grams of trans fats per day increased participants’ risk of depression by nearly 50%. 

Saturated fats are considered an in-between fat. Saturated fats come from red meat, dairy, coconut oil, and commercially prepared foods. Saturated fat may put someone at risk of disease because too much can drive up your bad cholesterol levels.  

Eat foods that are high in saturated fats sparingly, and try to replace them with good fats. The good fats are monosaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, which come from vegetables, seeds, nuts, and fish. Good fats are also essential fats, meaning your body needs them to function normally.  

Good fats even help prevent things like blood clots and inflammation. In the same study previously mentioned, the participants who consumed around 20 grams of olive oil per day had a 30% lower chance of depression than those who didn’t consume or only consumed low amounts of olive oil.  

2. Processed Foods

Another type of food that could be poorly affecting your mental health is processed foods. Studies show a 50% increase  in the likelihood of depression in women who regularly consumed high refined or processed foods.  

Researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University found that a diet high in fast food makes you about 40% more likely to develop depression . Why? Because these foods are high in cholesterol, carbohydrates, and saturated fats, all of which can cause inflammation. And inflammation, as we know, is associated with a variety of health issues, including depression and other mental health conditions. 

Try and limit your fast food intake. Eat more home-cooked meals that consist of whole foods like vegetables, healthy fats, and unprocessed meats. These types of foods will help lower your risk of depression as well as many other conditions.  

3. Refined Sugars

Refined sugars are found in many commercially prepared foods and are harmful to not only the body but also the brain. Refined sugars impair the body’s ability to regulate insulin, which can lead to type 2 diabetes and several other health conditions.  

Multiple studies have also linke d a diet high in refined sugars to impaired brain function and the worsening of mood disorders like depression. If you have a sweet tooth, try to replace some of the refined sugars in your diet with natural sugars like fruit, honey, and other alternatives.  

4. Gluten 

Gluten is a type of protein that is found in wheat, rye, and barley. Most people enjoy glutenous foods without any issue, but about 1% of the population has celiac disease, which is an autoimmune condition that causes the gut lining to be destroyed by gluten. Symptoms of celiac disease are usually physical, including diarrhea, weight loss, rashes, and malnutrition. However, celiac disease can have psychological symptoms as well.  

Even if you don’t have celiac disease, you may still be sensitive to gluten. Recently, researchers found that patients with gastrointestinal issues and depression felt much better after removing gluten from their diet. These patients have what is known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity .  

While a blood test can tell you if you have celiac disease, it can’t tell you that you’re sensitive to gluten or gluten intolerant. If your mental and physical health are suffering, talk to your doctor about your diet and what may be causing it. And even if you don’t have celiac disease, try eating gluten-free to see if it helps you.  

5. Dairy

As was previously mentioned, dairy contains saturated fats, which can be bad in high quantities, causing inflammation, which leads to many physical and mental health conditions. However, small amounts of dairy in your diet can be good for you, unless you are lactose intolerant. Did you know that 75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant ?  

Lactose is a carbohydrate in milk and dairy products, and people with lactose intolerance can’t digest this carb, often causing digestive issues like diarrhea, flatulence, cramps, and nausea. Interestingly, depression and anxiety are closely associated with the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) , the symptoms of which closely resemble the symptoms of lactose intolerance.  

If you eat a lot of dairy, try cutting back to see if it helps your physical and mental health. And even if dairy doesn’t bother your digestive system, don’t have too much of it since it contains saturated fats, which are also associated with poor physical and mental health.  

Nutrition and mental health are closely connected, and what you eat has more of an effect than you think. Pay attention to how you feel after eating certain foods and cut them out of your diet if you notice any negative effects. While a healthy diet can’t completely cure clinical depression, it can help the symptoms tremendously.  

To learn more about treatment for depression and other mental health conditions, contact us  at Serenity Mental Health Centers.  

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*All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.