There is a well-established link between diet and our physical health. But does the food we consume play any role in our mental well-being? The answer, without any surprises, is yes. Don’t just take my word for it. Numerous scientific studies and researches give credence to the saying, ‘you are what you eat.’
A study conducted on more than 15,000 young adults who were followed for nine years found that those who adhered to the traditional Mediterranean diet – a diet that includes fruit, vegetables, nuts, and fish had a 30% lower incidence of depression than those who consumed processed foods. Additionally, studies show that people with a healthful dietary pattern tend to have better mental health. The available research on the subject suggests that depression and dementia, in particular, are affected by the quality of the food we eat.
Unprocessed Food and its importance for mental health:
Unprocessed food, real food, or whole food have become trendy terms these days. An entire magazine is promoting the idea of clean eating, but what does this mean exactly? In essence, unprocessed or whole food is any food in its natural state with minimal or no added chemicals and preservatives. Fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, and beans are examples of unprocessed food.
It is the minimally processed food that human beings consumed exclusively for thousands of years. However, many people have now included the ‘ready-to-eat’ foods as a dominant part of their diets. This has resultantly taken a toll on our physical and mental well-being.
Following a diet based on unprocessed food is perhaps the most important thing one can do to maintain good physical and mental health. In this article, we have compiled six ways in which you can improve your mental health by simply consuming unprocessed food.
Unprocessed food is loaded with important nutrients:
Unprocessed food contains the vitamins and minerals required for optimal mental health. For instance, egg and liver are especially rich in choline – a nutrient that is essential for normal membrane function. A single Brazil nut is enough for the selenium requirement of an entire day. It is also an abundant source of copper, magnesium, and phosphorus. Most unprocessed foods are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that are necessary for mental well-being.
Unprocessed food is low in sugar:
Processed food can be higher in calories due to the high amounts of sugar or fat, but it comes at a cost. Consuming processed diet with added sugar like cakes and drinks has been associated with a higher risk of depression. A study conducted on more than 69,000 women found that those with the highest sugar intakes were more prone to depression than those with the lowest intakes.
High sugar diets have also been linked to an increased risk of dementia. Braintest reviews the five foods that every dementia patient should avoid and no wonder, most of them have a high presence of sugar.
Unprocessed food contains antioxidants:
Antioxidants are compounds that terminate the chain reactions due to oxidation. It helps fight the free radicals – the unstable molecules that can damage the body’s cells. They are found in unprocessed food like vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains. Antioxidants in unprocessed animal foods aren’t as abundant than in plant foods. Research suggests that a high intake of food rich in antioxidants can dampen the detrimental effects of anxiety disorder and oxidative stress on mental health.
It can have a positive impact on your mood:
Studies indicate that a number of nutrients are linked with brain health. Deficiency of these nutrients has been associated with depression at various occasions. It should not come as a surprise that many of these nutrients are abundant in unprocessed food. These nutrients include vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3s (found in salmon, chia seeds and walnuts, etc.), choline (found in egg yolks, broccoli), and magnesium.
Research is also beginning to demonstrate how our diets can influence the way we think and feel. During a stressful situation, our bodies go into a mode releasing the hormones adrenal and cortisol to fight the stressful event. This reaction reduces our hunger and appetite. However, if exposure to the stressful event prolongs, and you find yourself in a constant state of worry, these hormones overloads the body and cause heightened inflammation. A cohort study found that long-term inflammation increases the risk of mental disorder. Unprocessed food can impact your brain chemistry and hormones and help your body deal with stress more effectively.
Antioxidants help you feel more optimistic about the future:
Life can get tough at times, and the future can seem daunting. Such situations can cause some severe anxiety. The research found that people with higher levels of carotenoids (an antioxidant) tended to be more optimistic about the future. This is an indication of positive mental and physical health. If you are excluding unprocessed food from your diet, you are probably missing out on these beneficial antioxidants too.
You will sleep better:
Many people won’t have thought about it, but the food you eat has an impact on your sleep. Your diet controls how easily and quickly you sleep and how well rested you are when you wake up. A poor diet that digests quickly can disrupt your sleep cycle and leave you hungry in the middle of the night. By improving your diet and eating habits, you can improve the quality of your sleep and get rid of sleeping problems like sleep apnea.
Studies also found that sleeping problems often precede mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. A diet dominated by unprocessed food will not only make you sleep better but will also improve your mental well-being.
Synthetic food or any food that has been processed is devoid of some of the beneficial nutrients needed for optimal mental health. The purpose of consuming unprocessed food is to provide the body the vital vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that will lead us to the positive state of physical and mental health and vibrancy.