We know that what we eat affects our physical health, but did you know it has a huge impact on our mental health too?

When we talk about an illness such as diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, or heart disease, usually one of the first things a health professional explains is how nutrition can directly impact these medical conditions. There are some foods that increase your risk of acquiring disease, and some that decrease. The same goes for mental health. Although scientists still have a lot more to explore regarding the connections between food and mental health, we have compiled what research has shown thus far.

DIET is defined as “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.”

Note: Sometimes ‘healthier’ foods are more expensive and aren’t compatible with some people’s budgets. TNDF is here to try and remedy that. If you are in need of food or for more information on how our programs can benefit you, please contact us.

Disclaimer: changing your dietary pattern will not act as a cure for mental illness, it is only suggested to take care of your overall mental health. Though nutrition can be incorporated into a care plan, it is not a substitution for medication or other treatments.

Here’s what we know:

CULTURE

It’s easy to get consumed in our own familiar flavours and comfort foods that we become blind to the benefit of non-Western diets.

Two cultures that stand out in terms of the connection between food and mental health are the Mediterranean and Japanese diets. One study showed that the risk of depression was 25% to 35% lower among participants who ate a Mediterranean and Japanese diet compared to a traditional Western diet!

The predominant foods consumed in these cultures include:

  • Local Fruits and Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Cereals
  • Whole, unprocessed grains
  • Fish/Seafood
  • Unsaturated fats (olive oil)
  • Limited processed and refined foods and sugar

Bonus: Lots of physical activity!

 

Japanese Diet Pyramid

 

Intake of the above varieties of food from an early age is beneficial, as diets of high levels of saturated fats, refined carbohydrates, and processed food products is associated with adverse mental health in children and adolescents.

Sources: MentalHealth.org, CAMH

GUT HEALTH

Our gut has trillions of good bacteria, which keep the bad germs away and regulate our immune system, protecting us against viruses. This good bacteria also reduces inflammation in our bodies – and low inflammation boosts our mood and cognitive functioning!

One way to increase beneficial gut bacteria is to consume probiotics! Probiotics are living mechanisms found naturally in foods.

Examples of foods with probiotics include:

  • Yogurt
  • Fermented Sauerkraut
  • Fermented Pickles
  • Kombucha
  • Miso Soup
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Sourdough Bread
  • Limit foods in high fats and high sugars, which are harmful to gut health

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, well-being, and anxiety. It is often referred to as the “feel good hormone”. Approximately 95% of serotonin is produced in gastrointestinal tract, so not only does it help us digest food properly, it also guides our emotions, which is influenced by our good gut bacteria!

Healthy gut = healthy mind!

Sources: WebMD, Harvard  

NUTRIENTS

Nutrients provide us with energy, a stronger ability to focus, build self-esteem, and enhance our mood. Studies have found that people who have a mental illness, particularly depression, typically have low levels of the following key vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids:

  • B Vitamins – found in whole grains, eggs, leafy vegetables, meat/poultry/fish
  • Iron – found in beans, red meat, spinach, fortified breakfast cereals
  • Omega-3s – found in fatty fish (salmon, sardines, tuna), seeds, avocados, canola oil
  • Zinc – this helps to control the body’s response to stress! Found in cheese, nuts, tofu, oat

Sources: WebMD, Medium

LIMIT

Though a healthy diet includes balance, we know there are certain foods that negatively affect our mental health. If you feel that you are in a funk, or have a low mood, be cautious when consuming the following:

  • Caffeine – can increase anxiety and interfere with sleep patterns
  • Artificial/refined sugar – can lead to fatigue and inflammation
  • Alcohol – decreases serotonin
  • Processed foods – negatively impacts brain growth which is essential for increasing connections between brain cells

Sources: WebMD, MentalHealth.org  

EMOTIONAL EATING

Consuming food is essential to our survival, but eating is also a very personal and emotional experience.

Many human behaviours, like eating, are driven by subconscious emotions, which is why we sometimes end up feeding our feelings rather than our bodies. While indulging in a tub of ice cream after a break-up or reaching for potato chips after a stressful day is emotionally comforting, it can create a cycle of continuously feeling bad due to the effects of an imbalanced diet. It is perfectly normal to have small indulgences, but remember: if you don’t face your problems causing negative emotions, your food cravings won’t go away.

To learn more about emotional eating, check this out!

Enjoy Yourself!

Being mindful of the foods you include in your diet shouldn’t feel like an obligation, a punishment, or a chore. It should be a celebration and a ‘thank you’ for all that our bodies do for us.

Make it social!

Eating with others can offer some fulfillment to our emotional needs through quality time. If you prepare, cook, and eat food together, you will likely be more focused on the company than the meal itself. You may even learn new skills or get to try different meals. 

Join our What’s Cooking Facebook Group to virtually socialize with our chef and other foodies in the community!

 

Make it fun!

Make food an experience! We are blessed to live in an agriculture heavy area, were fresh food is just a moment away. Many local farms have fresh produce stands in the summer and are even open for exploration!

To have an enjoyable experience, try visiting some local farms where you may learn about a vegetable that is new to you, pick your own produce, or see for yourself how food is grown.

Hy-Hope Farm

Open Monday – Friday 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Saturday – Sunday 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

5450 Lakeridge Road, Ashburn, ON L0B 1A0

Farm Store – homemade baked goods, local produce, preserves, dairy products, frozen meat

Live Music – Saturdays and Sundays from 12:00 p.m to 4:00 p.m.

Pick Your Own – Apples in the fall

Uxbridge Farmer’s Market

Open Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. until October 25th

14 Victoria Street, Uxbridge, ON L9P 1B1

Variety of vendors selling produce, cheese, meat, preserves, baked goods, plants, herbal teas, honey, maple syrup, and more!

Forsythe Family Farms

Open Wednesday – Sunday 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

1025 Cragg Road, Greenbank, ON L9P 1R3

Farm Market – CSA program, vegetables, fruits, meat, preserves, desserts

Animal Barn – Visit farm animals and enjoy the playground

Pick Your Own – including strawberries, beans, and pumpkins

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