How to Eat Better For Your Mental Health

Girl eating salad-mental health

Written by: Brianna Snyder

We’ll tell you right now: All the Vitamin D in the world isn’t going to treat--much less cure--manic depression or other serious mental health issues.

But, as holistic approaches to health become more and more mainstream, the way we eat has found its way to the center of how we approach our overall wellness. There’s something called “nutritional psychiatry,” which theorizes that a diet full of lean proteins and lots and lots of veggies can prevent and to some extent treat the symptoms of depression. And while nothing is as effective for treating mental health as a conversation with a doctor and a prescription for a medicine that works for you, eating fresh, whole, nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, and grains can be a wonderful supporting player in how you feel every single day.

Here’s how to eat healthy for your mind.


Eat intuitively.

Also called “mindful eating,” this practice honors your body’s impulses, desires, and feelings. Give into your cravings, and deny yourself no foods.

Most people respond to this with, “Oh, so if I want to eat French fries all day, I can?” You could do that, yes, and maybe you should to teach yourself a lesson I bet you’d be surprised to learn: You do not actually want to eat French fries all day. You will be very sick of French fries very quickly if you commit to a day of eating them.

Mindful eating encourages you to give into the fry cravings, true. But you’ll find giving into those indulgences creates a counter-craving for balance. Rounding out your day’s food intake with green things and the occasional sugar bomb (if that’s what you want!) is healthy, moderate behavior. (As Julia Child said: Everything in moderation--including moderation.)

All of that is related to ...


Give up the calorie counting and the scale.

A huge number of us are all messed up about food--how we eat it, what we eat. Too many of us are eating to lose weight, which can really screw up our relationship with food and eating. Shifting focus from weight loss to mental well-being can, in itself, help heal some of those bad interactions with your daily diet.

In other words, eat green stuff because it’s good for your blood and your bones and your organs and your complexion. Eat it because it’s delicious! Enjoy lean proteins for strength. Carbs give you much-needed energy and, often, satisfaction. Take pleasure in your food choices and listen to what your body wants.

When we take a weight-neutral approach to eating, we can begin to have a more natural, less fraught relationship with food. Why binge on ice cream when you know you can have that ice cream anytime you want? #KillYourCheatDay


Go for the power players.

There are a number of nutrients known to keep your brain healthy. Omega-3s (found in salmon, flax seeds, and walnuts), folate (found in asparagus, chickpeas, and lentils), B12 (found in tuna, shrimp, and milk), choline (found in egg yolks, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts), magnesium (found in spinach, yogurt, and black beans), and vitamin D (found in fatty fish and eggs).


Antioxidants are king.

No, not so much in wine, sadly. We’re talking more carrots. Kale. Tomatoes. Studies show that the antioxidants in those veggies and fruits can relieve anxiety and depression.

In that study, 80 subjects between the ages of 20 and 60 years old attended a psychiatric clinic where they were evaluated psychologically and had their blood screened to find out the serum levels of vitamins A, C, and E in their bodies. Then they were given supplements of those vitamins for six weeks. After those six weeks, patients with generalized anxiety disorder and depression had a significant reduction in anxiety and depression.

So, yeah. Those anti-O’s are the real deal.


You’ll sleep better.

Eating a tube of Pringles before bed spikes your blood sugar and makes you anxious. Look, I’m not saying you’re eating Pringles before bed. But I AM saying eating well leads to sleeping well. Fruits and veggies have those good slow-digesting sugars that keep you even-keeled and calm.


You’ll be more, um, regular.

Fast foods and processed stuff can wreak havoc on the old digestive system. A regular and balanced intake of fibers, proteins, and your eight glasses of water per day lead to a more regular, healthful, balanced bathroom experience.


Want to know which foods are top-tier healthy? Here’s the ultimate list.

 

Almonds

Ugh, I know. Everyone is always yelling about almonds. But seriously. They’re good for your heart, filling, full of fiber, and easy to snack on.

 

Brazil nut

This is one of the healthiest nuts on the planet. Mix it with your almonds. They’re rich in protein and carbohydrates, plus they’re good sources of vitamin B-1, vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc. Not only that, but, according to Medical News Today, they contain one of the highest amounts of selenium of any food. (Selenium is a vital mineral for maintaining thyroid function.)

 

Lentils

Lentils are yummy, cheap, a great lunch snack, and packed with healthy stuff.

 

Oatmeal

Oatmeal’s soluble fiber content helps lower cholesterol levels! And oats are rich in complex carbohydrates, as well as water-soluble fiber, which slow digestion down and stabilize levels of blood-glucose. Oatmeal is rich in B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and potassium. Coarse or steel-cut oats contain more fiber than instant varieties, according to MNT.

 

Wheat germ

Wheat germ is high in several good nutrients, like vitamin E, folic acid, thiamin, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and fatty alcohols and essential fatty acids.

 

Broccoli

Broccoli is rich in fiber, calcium, potassium, folate, and phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are compounds that reduce the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Broccoli also contains vitamin C, as well as beta-carotene, an antioxidant. (Source: MNT!)

 

Apples

Another antioxidant queen. One a day, doctor away, all that.

 

Kale

If you’re one of the people who struggles with kale, try this: tear it up into chip-size pieces, load it up with olive oil, salt and pepper, and cayenne, then roast the crap out of it till it gets crispy. This is truly a delicious snack, I swear.

 

Blueberries

Blueberries are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. And regular blueberry consumption can reduce the risk of hypertension by 10 percent.

 

Avocados

Healthy fat. Delicious toast.

 

Leafy green vegetables

Spinach and cabbage help fight the real beast: type 2 diabetes. Load it up, Popeye.

 

Sweet potatoes

See? French fries can work out after all.

 

Salmon, eggs, chicken, and venison.

This is your lean protein, people. Examples of oily fish include salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, and anchovies. Oily fish provide benefits for patients with inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis. They are also rich in vitamins A and D.