Eat well to feel well – the contribution of a balanced diet to your well-being

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Eat Well to Feel Well

Food and mood are more related than you think, and diet could dramatically influence your mental health. How is this possible? We’ll try to explain it all for you in the following.

Enhanced well-being comes with a bunch of benefits, from longevity, immune competence, and improvements in blood pressure to satisfaction with personal relationships and career success.

But in the hustle and bustle of daily life, achieving psychological well-being seems more daunting than ever, as factors such as stress, work conditions, finances, and, of course, physical health problems often stand in the way of this.

Some of these can’t be controlled, but others can be managed. Diet, for example, can be a causal factor in experiencing a low mood, but this can be changed if you become more serious about your eating habits.

The connection between nutrition and emotional well-being has gained ground in recent years, leading to numerous research studies dealing with this topic and trying to put all pieces together, including with supplements.

Thus, it was found that some dietary patterns directly impact how you feel.

Although there is much more to uncover about the relationships between nutrition and psychological well-being, the following lines will give you a clearer idea of the phenomenon, so read on.

fruit salad on gray bowls

One of the factors that could enhance flourishing, life satisfaction, and happiness is, surprisingly or not, diet. So, no, it’s no coincidence that you feel more energetic and level your mood up after eating that plate of fruits and vegetables.

In a large cross-sectional study in England, for example, increased consumption of fruits and vegetables leads to increased self-reports of well-being, happiness, and overall life satisfaction.

Throughout time, emotional health conditions have been treated with psychiatric therapies such as medication, counseling, and, in some cases, hospitalization. But the medical field has advanced, and new ways of dealing with mental health problems have started to be considered.

That’s how the nutritional psychiatry field has come to exist. Its main purpose is to support the treatment of psychological health issues with appropriate lifestyle and diet changes. It’s something that many of us may have taken for granted, but it’s just logical for foods to have a certain impact on our brains since they highly influence the rest of our bodies.

One of the reasons what you eat influences your brain so powerfully is that your gastrointestinal system, or what you often call ‘gut’, is, in fact, very closely related to the brain. The gut supports trillions of microorganisms with various roles in the well-functioning of the body, such as synthesizing neurotransmitters responsible for your emotions, mood, appetite, pain, and sleep, among others.

Now things are clearer, isn’t it? You might also have heard the term ‘second brain’ referring to the gut. Well, if we allude to the intricate connections between the gut and the brain, that could be true. The link between the two is formally called the gut-brain axis, and it has emerged as an important subject of debate.

Therefore, if you’re dealing with mental health issues, apart from appropriate medication, therapy, and listening to meditation music, you might also be recommended to observe your eating habits. Perhaps what you find will help the healthcare professional further prescribe a suitable, more comprehensive diagnosis.

Mood and carbohydrates

It’s well-known that consuming highly processed carbohydrates could result in diabetes and obesity. But it’s less known that this could also impact mental health. Thus, diets with a high glycemic index, such as refined carbohydrates and sugars, could increase the incidence of depressive symptoms even in healthy patients.

High consumption of refined carbohydrates can thus not only heighten the risk of obesity but also of anxiety and depression, and this is mainly due to the rapid and repeated increases and decreases in blood glucose.

A high dietary glycemic load might lower plasma glucose in such a manner that it leads to excessive secretion of hormones such as glucagon, growth hormone, adrenaline, and cortisol.

Changes might be produced in hunger, irritability, and anxiety, among others, so the influence of these hormones on mood and emotion is undeniable.

Dietary patterns linked with enhanced emotional health

Previously mentioned evidence leaves no room for doubt as regards the connection between how specific diets could impact well-being. Researchers around the world have found, thus, some dietary patterns that could help reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and mood in general.

Therefore, according to a study published by PubMed, a Mediterranean diet is ideal for people with depressive symptoms. That’s because foods characteristic of this type of diet, i.e., whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, are related to a 10 percent lower incidence of depressive symptoms. Thus, if you want to follow a Mediterranean diet, be sure you increase your intake of foods such as dairy products, olive oil, legumes, nuts, fish, fruits, and veggies.

For stress and anxiety, it’s recommended to avoid sugary foods, alcohol, and caffeine. Several PubMed studies show that such foods could exacerbate anxiety symptoms and impact overall life quality.

Thus, if you feel anxious or stressed (and if these feelings persist), it would be helpful to limit alcohol, caffeine, and saturated fat consumption and focus instead on anti-inflammatory foods, such as green leafy vegetables (collards, kale, spinach), fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries (basically anything ending in ‘berries’), and oranges, and fiber-rich foods (beans, avocado, whole grains).

As for mood and emotional well-being, the go-to variant is a nutrient-dense diet. So, if you aim to enhance your mood, one of the best you can do is choose health-promoting foods rich in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, without too much added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium.

Also, avoid processed foods such as those savory snacks you might be craving during a movie night, bread, cheese (painful, we know), breakfast cereals (even more painful), and meat products (sausage, salami, bacon, ham, etc.). A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, for example, is linked to lower tension, less worry, and greater life satisfaction, so if you’re dealing with any of these, ensure you always eat your veggies.

On your plate and on with your life – that’s what healthy food is.

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


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