Your Diet And Your Emotional Health

Your Diet and Your Emotional Health

“Poor nutrition may be a causal factor in the experience of low mood, and improving diet may help to protect not only the physical health but also the mental (emotional) health of the population.” J. Firth and colleagues

Many factors contribute to your emotional health - genetic background, early life experiences, medical history, and stress are just some. 

One factor, that you may not have considered, is your diet. What you eat can affect your mood, in both positive and negative ways. Making changes to your diet can help lessen anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.

Nutrition and Emotional Health

The relationship between diet, your overall emotional health, and your current mood is complicated. The following diagram illustrates the complexity.

From the diagram:

  • A healthy, nutrient-dense diet affects your:

    • Physical health (e.g. cardiovascular health, risk for diabetes, extra weight).

    • Mental or emotional health (e.g. anti-inflammatory diet affects mood, severity of depression and anxiety symptoms).

  • Your physical health and mental health affect each other (e.g. medical problems increase the risk of mental health problems and mental health problems influence the ability to manage and the severity of symptoms of medical conditions).

  • Your physical and mental health also impact your diet (e.g. habits associated with extra body weight affect food choices, trying to improve mood may lead to selecting comfort foods).

The Mediterranean Diet

Poor nutrition is very common in the U.S. and other developed countries. Diets commonly lack fruits and vegetables and contain large amounts of red meat, high-fat dairy products, refined grains, and high-sugar and highly processed foods.

There are various diets that can help you to achieve good nutrition and maintain a healthy body weight. One of the most effective ones is the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is based on traditional eating patterns of countries surrounding the Mediterranean sea, like Greece, Spain, and Italy. 

It has a high proportion of fruits and vegetables (phytonutrients, healthy plant chemicals); a moderate amount of chicken, fish, eggs, and milk products; and minimal red meat and processed foods. It also includes healthy fats (e.g. omega-3 fatty acids), vitamins and minerals (micronutrients), and fiber. 

Some Healthy Food Choices

  • Eat organic, locally grown, seasonal, fresh food.

  • Eat free-range, grass-fed meat, 1-2 times per week.

  • Have grass-fed, free-range eggs, 4 or less per week.

  • Have plant-based protein sources every day.

  • Look for minimally processed foods.

  • 100% whole grain bread is best.

  • Select wild-caught seafood.

A Word About Antioxidants

As you will read, antioxidants are naturally present in many foods, especially fruits and vegetables.

Antioxidants are chemicals that help to protect your cells from an imbalance of free radicals which can eventually cause oxidative stress.

Free Radicals

At low to moderate levels, free radicals are necessary for proper body functioning. For example, they play a role in forming some structures within the cells and in fighting infection. At high levels they are harmful.

There are both internal and external sources of free radicals. For example, inflammation, infection, emotional stress, and aging produce them. Free radicals are also formed from exposure to environmental pollution, cigarette smoke, alcohol, etc.

Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress is caused when there is an imbalance of free radicals - this leads to cell damage. Oxidative stress is linked to medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia.

Foods That Support Mental or Emotional Health

Here are some specific foods that can help support your mental health overall and your current mood. They include protein, grains, fats, vegetables, and fruits. Each of them contains specific nutrients that support brain health.

These nutrients and phytonutrients (nutrients found in plant-based foods) can support or promote memory and learning, nervous system function, relaxation, hormonal function, or the production of energy.

What’s For Dessert?

Dark chocolate, from the cacao tree, contains many phytonutrients. These phytonutrients include flavonoids and polyphenols, both of which have antioxidant properties.

Dark chocolate may decrease stress, increase blood flow to the brain, and improve nervous system functioning.

The more cacao, the better - aim for dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao. Avoid added sugars by checking the labels of your dark chocolate.

A portion of dark chocolate = 2-3 squares.

Healthy Gut Foods 

Some foods help to maintain healthy intestinal (gut) bacteria. A healthy balance of good vs. bad bacteria affects the brain-gut communication system.

Some of these foods include:

  • Kefir (yogurt drink)

  • Kimchi (salted and fermented vegetables)

  • Kombucha (fermented tea)

  • Miso soup (from fermented soybeans)

  • Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)

  • Sourdough bread

  • Yogurt (with live cultures)

Note: fermented foods contain healthy bacteria

Hydration

Drink 8-10 cups (1.9-2.4 L) of healthy fluids every day. It is necessary for your overall health and for the absorption of nutrients. Pure, filtered water is best.

Goodpath's integrative approach addresses nutrition because your diet plays a role in both preventing and managing medical and emotional problems. Your coach can answer questions and help you make changes to your diet.

Of course, mind/body techniques, supplements, and exercise therapy may also be part of your program. Contact your coach to learn more about how the solutions in your program can help support your mental and emotional health.