World Mental Health Day 2023: 10 Best And Worst Foods
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World Mental Health Day is observed on October 10 every year to generate more awareness about mental health, mental health education and social stigma. First observed in 1992, World Mental Health Day is celebrated as an initiative by the World Federation for Mental Health and its 150 member institutions across the world. In India, World Mental Health Day 2023 provides a brilliant opportunity to generate more awareness about mental health issues and celebrate those who have committed their lives to it. 

This World Mental Health Day 2023, let us take a closer look at the roles food and nutrition play in the management of mental health disorders. The very first question you may ask is if mental health has to do with the brain, then what could possibly be the connection between it and the food we eat? Well, the answer, though a bit complicated, has been the focus of many studies for decades now. A study published in Frontiers in Nutrition in 2022 suggests that there is a huge correlation between food, nutrition, lifestyle and mental health

Video Credit: YouTube/Shilpa Shetty Kundra

Understanding The Food-Mental Health Connection 

This study and others explain how the connection between the gut and the brain—known in scientific terms as the gut-brain axis—is deeply linked. The food we eat, especially healthy foods, have nutrients that are precursors to neurotransmitters which regulate mood and emotions. Food also plays a huge role in hormone function through the endocrine system, and hormonal dysfunctions can also cause mental health issues. So, the regular diet we eat does impact nerve function, immune health and brain health—and indirectly, the mental health of an individual. 

On the other hand, those with mental health disorders have also been seen to have particular relationships with healthy diet and food. For example, those with Anorexia Nervosa tend to have an overtly negative relationship with food, while those with depression, anxiety disorders and mood disorders may have a tendency of emotional eating or stress eating. So, what we eat and how much of it we eat does indeed have an impact on mental health, while unhealthy eating habits can often indicate the presence of mental health issues too.   

Foods For Mental Health: Best Foods To Eat 

Now that you understand the link between mental health and food, here are a few foods that have been shown by many studies to be beneficial for mental health. 

1. Fatty Fish: Most fatty fish varieties like mackerel, trout and salmon are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to be great for brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids are precursors to EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which improve the function of brain cells. Studies show that this is the reason why fish consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of depression and improved mood function as well. 

2. Green Leafy Vegetables: From spinach and kale to a variety of Indian greens like amaranth, brahmi, fenugreek and mustard leaves are rich sources of vitamin B complex. B vitamins, particularly folate, is linked to the increased production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, high levels of which are linked to good mental health. Low folate levels are also linked to high risk of depression, so eat your greens for mental health. 

3. Whole Grains: While refined grains and grain flours are linked to many lifestyle disorders like obesity and high cholesterol, whole grains are linked to nothing but good health, including mental health. Whole grains like brown rice, millets, oats and quinoa are packed with complex carbohydrates and plenty of B vitamins that play an important role in mood regulation and cognitive function. 

4. Probiotics: Yes, eating dahi or yoghurt and yoghurt-based foods that have probiotic properties is essential for gut health and most Indians already know this. As mentioned before, a good gut healthy often translates into good mental health thanks to the gut-brain axis. Eating fermented foods with probiotic properties is likely to have the same positive impact on mental health. 

5. Lean Proteins: Animal-based lean protein sources like chicken, eggs and duck as well as plnt-based lean protein sources like tofu, soy, nuts and seeds are loaded with essential amino acids like tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin. Most protein sources are also rich in magnesium, which also plays a huge role in brain function and prevention of depression. 

Foods To Avoid For Mental Health 

While some foods are great for mental health, there are others which have the worst impact on mental health. Here are some such foods that you need to avoid for better mental health. 

1. Sugar: Foods high in sugar content are not only linked to obesity and heart problems, but also high risks of mental health disorders. Eating high-sugar foods, whether they are sweets and cakes or beverages, can lead to rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels. When these fluctuations occur frequently, it can lead to mood swings, irritability, fatigue and may also increase the risk of depression in the long run. 

2. Alcohol: High alcohol consumption is often associated with mental health disorders as a symptom and cause. Excessive consumption of alcohol is likely to tax the central nervous system and lead to anxiety, sleep disturbance, impaired decision-making and digestive issues. All of these can combine to have a very negative impact on your mental health, so it is best to avoid alcohol. 

3. Excess Caffeine: While regulated or moderate consumption of caffeine in beverages like coffee, tea and hot chocolate can lead to mental alertness and better focus, excessive caffeine consumption is detrimental to mental health. Drinking too much caffeine can cause symptoms of anxiety like agitation and shaking, restlessness and sleep disturbances. This is why consuming caffeine only moderately is recommended. 

4. Processed Food: Processed foods like bakery goods, meats and snacks contain high amounts of sugar, trans fats, saturated fats, sodium and sugars. All of these combined can cause an increase in inflammation, which in turn is associated with many health risks including pain, chronic disease, mood disorders, anxiety and even depression.  

5. High Sodium: Snacking is something most people are guilty of, but did you know that most pre-packed snacks are very high in trans fats and sodium, not to mention artificial additives and flavours? Excessive sodium consumption in particular is linked to high blood pressure, which adds pressure to the brain and impairs its function too. Studies also show that reduced salt consumption can often prove beneficial for those with mental health disorders.