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The Food You Eat Is Important For Your Mental Health

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It’s a sad fact that Americans suffer from the highest rates of mental health disorders in the world – in fact, almost one in two Americans will suffer from some kind of mental health problem in their lifetime, as reported in a WHO 2011 report. In the course of any 12 months, more than a quarter of all Americans report having gone through a mental health problem. Compared to other countries, the second highest incidence of mental health is only at 21%, in Ukraine, with Colombia, New Zealand, Lebanon and France trailing a little behind them all having occurrences of 18 – 20% in a 12 month period. So why is it that the United States still has the highest incidences of mental health problems even though we have some of the best treatments available in the world?

Of course, there are many factors involved in an answer for that. Some of those factors might even include the fact that some cultures are not as open to talking about mental health problems and thus numbers reported might be much lower than actual occurrences. It might also be a problem if there are not as many options for treatment and thus individuals deal with the problems themselves or not at all. But it also seems that one of the reasons for the higher occurrences of mental health in the U.S. is the diet that most partake in. The Standard American Diet (SAD) has been criticized for some time by all manner of health officials and has been pointed to as the reason for many health problems. It seems that SAD might also be responsible for the myriad of mental health problems that Americans experience as well.

Mental and physical health are intricately linked. Your mental health plays a role in your physical health and your physical health plays a role in your mental health. Physical activity has been prescribed before to help lessen the effects of depression and the more mentally healthy you are the more you feel like exercising and taking care of yourself. Those with serious mental health conditions are at a risk of developing chronic health conditions as well and those that are seriously physically ill usually fall into some kind of depression or mental health problem. This connection helps to explain why what we eat and put into our bodies directly impacts our mental health as well.

Not to mention that there have been plenty of studies on the effects that high sugar diets have on our mental capacity. A few different studies have conclusively shown that sugar triggers depression and other mental health issues in our bodies due to some key processes that it influences in our bodies. Not only does sugar encourage the growth of free radicals in our bodies, but it also inhibits the activity of a growth hormone in our bodies called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is important for neuron survival and growth, serves as a neurontransmitter modulator, and is an essential part of learning and memory through neuronal plasticity. This hormone is widely expressed in the central nervous system and the gut (another clue that our mental health and what we eat is connected).

High-sugar diets are also linked to insulin and leptin resistance which also increase your chances of not only physical problems but thereafter mental ones as well. It has been mentioned before that high-sugar diets or unhealthy diets are more likely to be indulged in once someone is already feeling mentally down and thus the problem arises as to which one came first. Scientists have addressed this problem with a study where they took a look at baseline diets and then determined the probability that participants had to develop mental problems due to their diet alone. The research concluded that those on a healthier diet, such as a the Mediterranean diet for instance, were less likely to develop mental instabilities as opposed to those that were on a SAD diet or something similar.

The issue then boils down as to how eating ‘real food’ will benefit your body, how much do you need to eat, when to start, etc. Plain and simple, the more organic and unprocessed foods that you incorporate into your diet, the better you will feel mentally and physically. There are a few diets that can be beneficial to mental health although a specific diet is not necessary as long as you just eat less processed foods and more organic fruits and vegetables. The DASH diet, Mediterranean diet and Ketogenic diet seem to be particularly helpful in dealing with mental health disorders and at reversing the damage that might have been done. The keto diet in particular has been credited with helping participants achieve calm and mental clarity and was originally developed for children with refractory epilepsy for that specific reason. The DASH diet was originally created for hypertension patients but it has also proven to be effective at battling depression by reducing inflammation. The Mediterranean diet is an overall healthy diet as it encourages the consumption of healthy fats and proteins over carbohydrates as well as a generous amount of fruits and vegetables.

Some of these diets can be quite strict and hard to stick to right off the bat for those that are dealing with physical and mental problems. Easing into such a diet might be a better option for some and there are a few ways to do that. Intermitten fasting is one such way – it helps to put the body into a gentle state of ketosis and drives up the body’s fat-burning mode and helps to reduce inflammation too. Replacing water for all other sugary drinks and avoiding alcohol can also be a start as many people don’t realize that most of their daily sugar comes from drinks. Adding in light exercise is also highly beneficial – it doesn’t have to be anything intense, just enough to combat a sedentary lifestyle and get your blood moving throughout the day.

Making lifestyle changes is always hard, but if you’re dealing with a mental health problem it might be one of your best options for reversing the problem. The recent studies that have linked mental and physical health on multiple platforms and have found links for what we eat to our mental stability prove that food is important. Not only does eating clean and healthy foods help our physical health but it can also be a big factor in our mental health. Making the change to a healthier diet such as the DASH, Mediterranean or Ketogenic diet can be a huge relief for your mental health. If a complete diet change is not something you can handle, even small changes such as drinking only water, light exercise and intermittent fasting can help a lot. If you’re feeling that your mental health is less than ideal, eating something else might be just what you need.

 

References:

www.theatlantic.com

www.ontario.cmha.ca

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

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