What do nutrition and diet have to do with mental health?

What is nutrition anyway?

You hear the word “nutrition” a lot, but do you know what it is exactly?

“Nutrition” is how the food we consume provides nourishment, which affects our bodies and how we feel. Different macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) play an important role in how our body works. 

The main nutrients our body needs include:

  • Carbohydrates. “Carbs” include simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are digested quickly for energy and can cause blood sugar spikes. Examples are sugar, sweeteners, syrup, and candy. Complex carbohydrates include fiber and starch, and are digested more slowly. This keeps your blood sugar more stable and helps you feel fuller for longer. Examples of starchy carbs are: potatoes, corn, and peas. Examples of high-fiber carbs are: whole grains, beans, whole fruit, and certain vegetables.
  • Protein. Protein is composed of amino acids, which help with tissue growth, immune function, and energy production. Sources of protein include: meat, plant-based meat alternatives, seafood, eggs, dairy, beans, and soy.
  • Fats. Fats can help preserve brain health, lubricate joints, and aid in the production of hormones. There are two main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fat is found in animal products, some processed foods, and tropical oils. Unsaturated fats are found in plant foods. These can be divided into two categories: monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA). Examples of MUFA are: olive oil, canola oil, avocado, and tree nuts. Examples of PUFA are: vegetable and seed oils. Getting too much saturated fat and not enough unsaturated fat in your diet can put you at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • Vitamins and Minerals. These organic substances are found in small amounts in food and keep our bodies functioning properly. Getting too few vitamins and minerals from the food you eat leads to deficiencies, which can have negative effects on our body and mind.

Why is nutrition important for mental health?

What affects your body affects your mind, and what affects your mind affects your body. As mentioned, different macro- and micronutrients play a role in how your body works and feels. Research shows that low levels of certain vitamins and micronutrients, especially vitamin D and vitamin B-12, can increase risk for depression

Omega-3 fatty acids are known to play a vital role in brain development and cell signaling. (They  also have anti-inflammatory properties.) Selenium, which is a mineral, has also been shown to affect anxiety levels. Getting more of these vitamins in your diet or in supplements can improve both your mood and your general health.

Other research has shown that, in addition to specific vitamin deficiencies, overall diet can also impact mental health. A diet high in healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is associated with a lower risk of depression while a diet high in meats, refined grains, and highly processed foods is associated with a higher risk of depression.

What is the “gut-brain” connection?

The past couple of decades has shown a glut of research on the gut-brain connection.

Our gut “microbiome” is made up of the healthy bacteria in our intestines. It forms a protective barrier and helps us digest food. Our microbiome is heavily affected by what we eat, which then impacts how our brain functions. 

Further, some research has shown that up to 90% of our body’s serotonin (a neurotransmitter affecting mood and cognition) is produced in the gut. And, certain foods also trigger a release of different neurotransmitters, including dopamine and norepinephrine.

This all goes to show that a healthy diet plays a huge role in our overall health—from our brain (and mental health) to the functioning of our entire body.

How can I get my nutrition and wellness on track? 

The key to long-term health is maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating nutritiously, maintaining a weight that is healthy for you (which can include meal planning), and getting enough exercise. It may sound straightforward, but the fact is that it’s more complex than that. Everybody (and every body) is different, so what works for someone else might not work for you. To top it all off, there’s so much new research all the time that it can be hard to keep track. 

That’s why Cerebral now offers two new care plans focusing on nutrition: Nutrition Management and Nutrition & Medication Management. Both plans include a personal nutritionist who will help you every step of the way so you can become the healthiest version of yourself. All Cerebral nutritionists are also registered dieticians, which requires additional training.

What does a nutritionist do?

A nutritionist is an expert of food and nutrients who will work to help you achieve your health or dietary goals. This includes helping you: 

  • make sure you're getting the right nutrients to meet your personal health goals
  • find and maintain a healthy weight for you
  • improve your relationship with food
  • implement better eating habits in a practical and sustainable way

Many physical health conditions related to depression can also be managed with dietary changes, including heart disease and diabetes. A nutritionist can help you figure out how your diet and lifestyle might be impacting your mental health, and what positive changes you can make.

If you’re ready to improve your nutrition, mental health, and overall wellness, there’s a custom team waiting for you! Our nutrition plans have launched in the following select states, and we will look to expand that list soon:

  • Arizona
  • Indiana
  • Michigan
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas

Start with our nutritional assessment and get started today!

Clinically reviewed by Chelsea Jackle, MFN, RDN, LD

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Expert Tips

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  • If you are in emotional distress, here are some resources for immediate help:

  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline:
    Call 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line:
    Text Home to 741-741
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