In my practice, I focus on holistic health because I find that I get better results when I treat the whole person – including their mental health. Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to talk about something you may not think about when it comes to your mental health: your diet.
Studies are finding that what you eat might be having a bigger impact on your mental health than you may realize. Ongoing research is finding that the typical American diet – rich in processed foods, high in sugar and saturated fat, and low in whole, fresh foods – contributes to increased rates of depression, anxiety, and tension, which can diminish energy, contribute to weight gain, and raise the risk of disease.
Studies are showing that people who consume high glycemic load foods – foods that raise blood glucose levels – are more likely to experience depression and irritability than those who chose low-GI foods.
High-GI foods are sugary foods, pastas, white rice and breads – foods that can cause spikes and crashes in your blood sugar levels. High-GI foods contribute to cravings and have low satiety factor. Low-GI foods, generally below 50 on the glycemic index, are rich in fiber, helping you feel fuller longer without inducing substantial fluctuations in your blood sugar levels.
So what should you eat to protect your mental health?
Skip pasta and reach for quinoa, which will give you protein for more energy and fiber to improve satiety. Getting white potatoes out of your diet is simple as well – substitute sweet potatoes or try cauliflower “mashed potatoes,” a mainstay of popular paleo diets. Cruciferous vegetables, like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, are rich in antioxidants that are known to reduce the risk of a number of diseases. These vegetables are also rich in key nutrients that support energy production and help maintain steady blood sugar levels.
Many people turn to artificial sweeteners to avoid sugar, but even these can drive down your mood and tank your energy, while increasing your risk of disease. Strive to find natural, non-sugary alternatives to your favorite beverages and desserts. Still or sparkling water flavored with fresh cucumber, mint, citrus fruits, or berries can be refreshing. Herbal teas can enhance your antioxidant intake, increase your metabolism, and help detox the body.
Fruits are known as “nature’s candy.” Instead of reaching for a candy bar or cookie, pack blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries for a post-meal dessert. You will find that these fruits have a rich sweetness when sugar and artificial sweeteners are not a regular part of your diet.
Healthy fats: A good choice for mental health
Previous studies have found that diets high in saturated fat can contribute to suppression of dopamine, a “feel-good” chemical messenger in the brain. Giving up fats all together isn’t a good idea, though. Fats are a strong part of the flavor in each meal and improve satiety. Not to mention that a 2007 study found that a low fat diet is linked to increased tension and anxiety.
Strive for balance when it comes to fats – eat more unsaturated fats. Enrich the flavor of your whole-food diet with nuts, avocados, and olive oil. Choose fish over red meat. All of these options will also increase your intake of omega-3s, which are known to promote brain and heart health and boost metabolism.
Try supplements to enhance your mental health
If you need a little extra nutritional support to improve your mood, you may want to try my Mood Lifter supplement, which was designed to support your body’s natural production of dopamine. I sometimes combine it with the Craving Crusher supplement to create a ‘Mood Boost’ kit. Click here for more supplements that will help with energy and mood.
Parts of this article originally appeared on Fox News, where I am a regular contributor.