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How Some Foods Can Make You Happy...or Not

  • Category: LiveSmart
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  • Written By: Baldwin
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Can what you eat affect how you feel? You may be surprised by the connection.

When it comes to your mental health, have you ever given much thought to the role your diet plays? In the moment, there's no doubt that eating certain foods may make you feel good and can calm you down. But what about after that quick fix?

It turns out that the foods that often soothe your mood in the short term are usually not the foods that may improve your mental health over the long term. Many people crave foods filled with sugar, fat and salt when they're feeling down, anxious or stressed—comfort foods—but these are not the foods that actually reduce or prevent mental health symptoms. In fact, just the opposite may be what you need to improve your mental health.

There's still a lot of research that needs to be done about the cause-effect relationship between food and mental health, but studies completed to date suggest there may be a closer relationship than you think between the two. Just as diet plays a role in overall physical health, it may also be a factor in how you feel mentally and emotionally. This may be due to what is called the gut-brain connection.

Here are some ways your diet may affect your mental health:

  • Stress and Anxiety – Sometimes it's not about what you eat, but rather what you don't eat, that makes a difference. In the case of stress and anxiety, research has shown that it may be best to limit added sugars, artificial sweeteners, caffeine and alcohol. Foods that reduce inflammation, such as those with dietary fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, may help ease symptoms. Try adding more of these foods in your diet, such as vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains and cold water fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout, sardines). Fermented foods, such as yogurt with live bacteria, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, tempeh and kefir, may also help.
  • Depression – Diets rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes, such as the Mediterranean diet, have shown promise for helping to reduce symptoms of depression. One study showed that this type of diet, along with fish oil supplementation, improved the mental health of people with depression. More research is needed on this topic, but there are no drawbacks to giving the Mediterranean diet a try. Even if it doesn't improve symptoms of depression, it has been shown to be one of the healthiest diets you can follow—it's good for your heart, brain and general well-being.
  • General Mood – One of the best ways to improve your mood, and your overall physical and mental health, is to eat a well-balanced diet, according to a 2020 study on the subject. This includes eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts/seeds, legumes, healthy oils and lean proteins. It also means limiting processed foods and those that contain a lot of saturated fat, added sugars, preservatives and empty calories.

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Date Last Reviewed: February 14, 2023

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Jane Schwartz, RDN, CLT

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