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Food for thought: Things to eat to improve mental health – The Daily Star

3 minutes, 20 seconds Read

It’s 2024 and we all know the importance of a healthy diet for physical health. But what about its impact on our mental well-being? Just like the rest of our body, the brain thrives on nourishment and the quality of that nourishment significantly influences our mood, cognitive function, and even our resilience to stress.

Dr Sifat E Syed Auna, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), shared, “Physical and mental health are not very separate in terms of food. What keeps you physically healthy will also help your mental health.”

This simple statement holds a profound meaning. Auna emphasises how our regular intake of restaurant meals and ultra-processed food, disrupts the delicate balance of elements in our body and slowly but surely weighs on to our mental health.

“Dehydration, slowness, fatigue, migraine, unexplained increased heart rate, etc. are just some examples of what excessive sugar, caffeine, artificial flavours and colours contained in these foods can do to our body,” she explains.

Although there is nothing wrong with occasional indulgence, moderation is key. 

Does that mean we are suggesting only leafy greens and cucumbers in the name of “healthy living”? Absolutely not! In fact, popular reels on YouTube for quick weight-loss are something experts strictly advise against.

Photo: Collected / Tangerine Newt / Unsplash

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Food for thought: Things to eat to improve mental health     tangerine-newt-wc9jceilz1u-unsplash.jpg

Photo: Collected / Tangerine Newt / Unsplash

According to Auna, the sudden drop in carb intake, which is often the main selling point of these diets, immediately affects our hormones, worsening our mood. Prolonged cut down on carbs and fat will, undoubtedly, reduce serotonin and dopamine levels in your body, linking it instantly to feelings of depression. On the other hand, home-cooked meals with moderate amounts of carbs, fats, and proteins are best for regular meals.

Now, there is no single “magic food” for mental well-being. However, certain dietary choices can provide a significant advantage. Foods rich in tryptophan, generating so-called “happy hormones” are essential. Think nuts, bananas, and even lean red meat. 

Dr Auna highlights these options as potential weapons in the fight against primary depression and anxiety.

Omega-3 fatty acids are another indispensable nutrient for mental health. Often found in fatty fish, they have earned a reputation as memory enhancers and may even play a role in reducing symptoms of anxiety.

Vitamins A, C, D, and B complexes all play essential roles in brain function and overall well-being. Vitamin D deficiency, for instance, has been linked to an increased risk of depression.

The key to a healthy mind on a healthy plate lies in personalisation. As Dr Auna emphasises, “What works for one person might not work for another. Factors like body type, metabolism, and even family genetics play a role.”

So, the biggest mistake we make here is jumping on a diet plan without consulting a nutritionist.

The message is clear: ditch fad diets based on fleeting trends.  True change requires a holistic approach.  Discipline, adequate water intake and quality sleep are all essential for a well-functioning mind. Chronic stress can also take a toll on mental health. Incorporating stress-management techniques like meditation or yoga, along with a balanced diet can be beneficial.

“We are often quick to say that children these days have unhealthy food habits,” says Auna, “But remember, children are keen observers. We are the ones who should lead by example.”

And truer words have not been spoken. If we can make children believe that healthy food is a recipe for an energetic and fun life, only then will they want to follow in our footsteps. Remember, we are what we eat, and a nourished body is the foundation for a nourished mind. The journey towards optimal mental health is unique for everyone and there is no single magic bullet.

While the future of food and mental health holds exciting prospects, the power to make positive changes lies within your hands. By embracing a mindful approach to eating, prioritising a balanced diet, and incorporating healthy lifestyle habits, you can unlock a world of mental clarity, emotional resilience, and overall well-being.

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