While the role of diet and nutrition on physical health is clear in many areas, the role of diet and nutrition on mental health and well-being is very complex and has yet to be fully understood. This short article will look at some relationships between the two and offer some suggestions on how to enhance both. Perhaps something mentioned here will spark you to look further into the details and the research on a particular approach or diet that will significantly help you in your life!
In studying and practicing different approaches of nutrition and diet and its effect on health and overall wellbeing for many years myself, I think it is very safe to say that each person must find their own way. That is perhaps not what many would like to hear about this topic. It is certainly easier to have a prescriptive approach to eating - a set program of what to eat and when to eat it. However, there is not one approach to diet and nutrition that will fit everyone, and some approaches clearly do not fit for many. That said, there are some general guidelines that seem to hold up as true for most people regardless of the type of diet you choose to be on.
Many diet approaches have received lots of press in recent years – the Paleo Diet (Caveperson diet), Keto Diet, Mediterranean Diet, High Protein, Low Protein, High Healthy Fat, Low Carbohydrate, and others. It can all be quite confusing and sometimes contradictory! This is another reason why it is best for each person to find out what works best for them and their body – perhaps with the help of their physician and a nutritionist.
So what should we be consuming? We know a lot about what food and substances are not good for most of us. According to an article by the NIH, “Poor nutrition may be a causal factor in the experience of low mood, and improving diet may help to protect not only the physical health but also the mental health of the population.”
“Healthy eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, are associated with better mental health than “unhealthy” eating patterns, such as the Western diet. The effects of certain foods or dietary patterns on glycemia, immune activation, and the gut microbiome may play a role in the relationships between food and mood.”
A Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, whole grains, and lean protein such as chicken and fish, and low in red meat and unhealthy fats such as most seed oils. Data from the Nurses' Health Study did find an association between depression and a diet rich in sugar-sweetened soft drinks, refined grains, and red meat. Soft drinks are number one on the top 6 (my list) of the worst things you can put in your body for many reasons.
Intermittent fasting has also received lots of press lately and it is not a diet per say, it is limiting your eating window to a certain timeframe of day – eating in only a 10-hour, 9-hour or 8-hour eating window. Initial studies look very promising - not eating outside the eating window seems to make it easier for many people to lose weight, have more energy and need less sleep! WOW!
I highly recommend looking into any of these items that may have sparked your interest. Find out more about them and see how it can help you with your physical health and your overall well-being. As always, check with your doctor before starting any new diet or nutritional approach.
To your health and well-being!
-Michael Morellino, Penny Lane Centers