When you think of “mental health” what comes to mind? Therapy? Meditation? Deep breathing? Yoga? While all of these can help improve your mental health, did you know that what you eat also plays a big role? Here are 5 changes you can make to your diet to start feeling like a better you.
- Limit Sugary Beverages
- Swap sugary drinks, like sodas, juices, energy drinks, or your favorite Starbucks latte for beverages low in sugar, like water, sparkling water, infused water, diet sodas, unsweetened tea, or coffee. Sugary drinks have empty calories that can lead to weight gain and cavities. Drinking enough water can help prevent dehydration, which has been associated with fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and mood changes. Aim to get in at least 8 cups of water a day.
- Eat your breakfast!
- Breakfast is needed to help refuel your body and reenergize your brain after sleeping all night without food. Skipping meals may lead to fatigue and feelings of “brain fog”. If you are in a hurry, try something quick like a small piece of fruit, Greek yogurt, and a protein bar.
- Make smart choices
- Avoid energy-dense foods, which tend to be overly processed or fried. These often contain a lot of saturated fat and added sugars and contain little nutritional value. These types of foods have been linked to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and depression. Instead, choose nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and olive oil. People who follow this kind of diet are up to 30% less likely to develop depression than people who eat lots of meat and dairy products.
- Get your vitamin D
- Many people are diagnosed with low levels of vitamin D. Studies show that rates of depression are higher in people with vitamin D deficiency. Most foods do not naturally have Vitamin D, but many are “Vitamin D fortified.” Fatty fish like salmon and tuna have the most naturally occurring Vitamin D. Other foods like milk, orange juice and breakfast cereals have Vitamin D added. Our bodies also produce Vitamin D as a result of being in the sun. Five to 30 minutes of sun exposure twice a week generally produces enough Vitamin D, with lighter-skinned people requiring less time than those with darker skin. Time in the sun beyond the suggested amounts above requires use of sunscreen to prevent skin damage and reduce risk of skin cancer. Vitamin D supplements may be used in the Fall and Winter months.
- Add Omega-3 to your meals
- Some studies suggest that omega-3 essential fatty acids may be helpful in the treatment of depression and seem to have a mood-stabilizing effect. Omega-3s may also help boost the effectiveness of conventional antidepressants and help young people with ADHD. Oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines) are the most highly recommended sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and the American Heart Association suggests eating these types of fish at least twice a week. Omega-3s can also be found in walnuts, flax (or flaxseed oil), olive oil, fresh basil, and dark green leafy vegetables.
Written by Victoria Luera, Lone Star Circle of Care Registered Dietitian. Published by Ashley Wild.