Mental health is impacted by four factors—your physical, nutritional, emotional, and social well-being. In the previous installment of this series, we explored the many ways physical activity and sleep can affect mental health as well as best practices to improve both components. However, to reap the full benefits of those improvements, you must also examine your nutrition.
In recent years, an ever-growing body of research has linked nutrition to numerous mental health conditions. “We know there’s a link between food and mental health and mental status, especially depression,” said Mark Haub, a Kansas State University nutrition professor, in a 2018 article about nutritional psychiatry.
One such study observed 120 children and adolescents as they consumed sugar, soft drinks, and fast food. These subjects were diagnosed with ADHD more frequently than children who consumed a more balanced diet. In another study, 67 adults suffering from depression were assigned to a dietician. Their counseling sessions involved altering their diet patterns to consume less junk food and start eating more nutrient-rich foods. A third of this group relieved their depressive symptoms compared to only 8% of the control group.
There’s no question—what we eat has a tremendous impact on our well-being.
How sugar affects mental health
Though there are several harmful foods on the market, sugar is one of the most prevalent. It’s an active ingredient in fruit and soft drinks and packaged snacks, and many of us consume large amounts of it in our daily diets without even realizing. Our bodies use some of this sugar for energy, but excessive consumption is often dangerous for the following reasons:
These are just a handful of the ways sugar can impact our minds. Forbes takes a deep dive into these and other health impacts caused by the sweetener.
Digestion and mental health
As demonstrated by sugar, our mental health is significantly impacted by the foods we eat. But the way these foods are digested also impact our mental state. When we eat nutrient-dense foods, our serotonin levels remain normal, helping us keep our well-being intact. But once we consume sugar, processed foods, or foods high in unhealthy fats, our serotonin levels drop. And low serotonin levels have been linked to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, negative thoughts, and low self-esteem. So, a balanced, healthy diet isn’t just important for the nutritional value, but also for the health of our digestive system, which is ultimately linked to our mental health.
Ways to improve nutrition
Controlling your food and water intake takes dedication, but getting started is easier than you think:
We often focus on the many ways nutrition impacts our physical health, but its effects on our mental health cannot be overstated. The food we consume plays a significant role in our well-being, controlling everything from our perceived sense of self to our mental agility. Over time, poor nutrition can cause detrimental, and often irreversible, damage to our minds and bodies. But by incorporating healthy, nutrient-rich foods into our diets, we can improve our well-being today and safeguard it for the future.