We all know that eating well and exercising makes us feel good about ourselves, but is this purely our mind rewarding us for fulfilling a social construct or is there a deeper connection between mental health and the foods that we consume?
Recently, more and more people have turned to plant-based and specialized diets to cure their physical ailments, but there is also growing support in the psychiatric community of using nutrition to help alleviate mental illness.
The practice, now referred to as nutritional psychology, has grown in response to the obesity epidemic as doctors began to explore just how extensive the negative effects of living an unhealthy lifestyle can have on an individual’s physical and mental wellbeing. It seems that the more this connection is explored, the more apparent it is that your diet can have a huge impact on your mood and stress levels.
Studies have shown that people who consume a diet high in refined sugars and processed foods, similar to the traditional American diet, are more susceptible to the effects of mood disorders. This could explain why each year, 1 in 4 Americans suffer from some form of mental illness.
The CDC has even predicted that by 2020, depression will come second to heart disease as the most common disability Americans have. In contrast, people who consume a diet of whole foods and healthy fats, like a Mediterranean diet, can be up to a third less likely to develop a mood disorder, such as depression, than those who do not.
The good news is, it appears the practices of nutritional psychology can work. This relatively new, yet promising approach suggests focusing on a diet of whole foods that are rich in nutrients such as B vitamins, minerals such as zinc and magnesium, and the ever popular omega-3s, which are frequently lacking in the western diet of Americans.
As this trend grows, people sharing their success with this wholesome approach to combating mental illness has increased as well. The pro-veganism book Forks Over Knives recounts numerous stories of people overcoming their depression and anxiety by sticking to wholesome, brain-friendly diets and psychiatrist Dr. Drew Ramsey has based his entire practice off of regulating mental health through diet alone.
Additionally, many universities are now offering courses in nutritional psychology and are encouraging many prospective doctors to adopt this approach to medicine.
Although eating well cannot always be used as a complete replacement for medication, it can certainly be a supplementary treatment or for anyone who wants to improve brain function.