You are what you eat–so what happens when you chow down on a bunch of chemical-laden, overly processed frankenfoods? Some scientists are increasingly convinced that a healthy, nutritious diet is the key to feeling happier and less stressed.
Nutritional psychiatry is the study of how eating certain foods can impact your mood. The Nutrition Society describes the burgeoning field as seeking “a comprehensive, cohesive, and scientifically rigorous evidence base to support a shift in thinking around the role of diet and nutrition in mental health.”
In other words, they want to find out if eating an avocado makes you feel more or less depressed. Still with me?
Although the research into nutritional psychiatry is still ongoing, there’s evidence to support that certain foods do have an impact on your mental health. Here’s the part where we remind you to talk to your doctor before trying out any kind of diet–and if you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses, please seek help from a medical professional.
The MIND diet is a new kid on the nutritional block. A hybrid of the DASH and Mediterranean diets, MIND aims to help keep aging brains healthy. The diet puts an emphasis on green, leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, chard, etc.), along with other veggies, whole grains, beans, berries, nuts, fish, and poultry. The creators of the MIND diet advise using olive oil as your main dietary fat and drinking up to one glass of wine a day.
MIND encourages people to limit or cut out butter, cheese, red meat, fried food, and sugar. That sounds like a challenge–but if it meant you could have a healthy, functioning brain well into old age, wouldn’t it be worth giving up deep-friend Oreos and cheeseburgers?
Studies have found that taking a probiotic can actually boost your mental health. There’s a ton of evidence that your gut has a huge influence on your brain. Scientists believe that taking a probiotic might help your brain manufacture more serotonin–a “feel-good” neurotransmitter believed to be linked to depression.
Fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut (all delicious, if difficult to spell) can also help your stomach and intestines heal. Many people swear by eliminating dairy since lactose can be hard to digest even for people without a specific intolerance. And there are countless advocates for grain-free diets to reduce systematic inflammation–including the kind that prevents your gut from working at peak capacity.
Your specific dietary needs might be different from some anonymous person in a medical study. The best thing you can do is try eating more vegetables–there’s literally no reason not to get more fresh produce in your diet.
It’s also a good idea to try cooking more meals at home and–if possible–eating them with friends or family. If you dine alone, at least put away your phone and turn off the TV. If you’re really serious about figuring out whether diet can boost your mood, try keeping a food journal. You might be surprised at the insights you discover!