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An African American woman and daughter prepare vegetables in a kitchen

Food for Thought: Learn How Diet Impacts Your Mental Health

We’ve been told food choices affect our physical bodies. Our hearts, waistlines and bones are a few of the areas impacted by what we put in our mouths. But did you know your diet can play a role in your mental state as well? 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and research shows what you eat can play a critical role in your mental and emotional health. Just like your heart, your brain needs positive fuel to be in tip-top shape.

Eating a healthy, whole-foods diet has shown to reduce excessive inflammation, which is linked to brain health. High-protein and lower-sugar diets have been shown to improve ADHD symptoms. Leafy greens have been known to help lower anxiety.

Some key vitamins and minerals and their impacts include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids — lower inflammation and improve brain health.
  • Amino acids — enhance brain health, fight depression and brain fog.
  • Folate — supports production of good serotonin.
  • Zinc — fends off stress, anxiety, schizophrenia and eating disorders.
  • Iron — helps nurture energy, positive moods and emotions.

Many of these vitamins and minerals are found certain foods that improve mental health:

  • Complex carbohydrates — Brown rice and starchy vegetables can improve energy levels. Quinoa, millet, beets and sweet potatoes have more nutritional value and will keep you satisfied longer.
  • Lean proteins — Foods like chicken, meat, fish, eggs, soybeans, nuts and seeds can help add energy and help your body think and react quickly.
  • Fatty acids — Fish, meat, eggs, nuts and flaxseeds can also help your brain and nervous system properly function.

While knowing what foods can help improve your mental health, it’s also important to recognize other food-related ways to help your brain. One important tip is to be aware of your surroundings during meals. Do not eat in front of the television or your screens. This practice can be distracting and cause you to overeat. Instead, find a place to sit and relax while eating.

Here are a few other tips:

  • Try to avoid processed snack foods that impair concentration. Sugary foods can lead to drastic energy level swings.
  • Grocery shop after eating. Shopping while hungry can lead to making more unhealthy purchases.
  • Have a healthy snack when hunger strikes. Snacks like fruit, nuts and hard-boiled eggs provide more energy than more processed foods.

The saying “you are what you eat” can be true for your physical and mental state. Do your best to take care of both. 

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