5 Ways Nutrition Affects Your Mental Health (For Better & Worse!)

If a bad day leaves you reaching for a bar of vegan chocolate or a box of cookies, you’re not alone! As junk food has become more and more available in recent years (especially for vegans), eating sugary foods has become a go-to way to pick ourselves up after a bad day. Or a bad hour. Oh, and for good news. 

The problem here? These delicious foods aren’t exactly nutritionally dense, and can negatively impact our mental health when we’re already feeling a little less than ourselves. How? Let’s take a closer look. 

 

How is my mental health affected by what I eat? 

The saying “you are what you eat” doesn’t just refer to the few pounds you may put on after overindulging, it also alludes to the fact that what goes into your body helps your body repair itself and build new cells, control hormones, and hundreds of other functions. It can be easy to think of our “selves” and our bodies as separate entities, but what we eat can have chemical repercussions that affect our minds. 

Here are some of the ways our mental health is affected by our nutrition: 

 

A healthy diet helps us sleep better, and sleep helps us feel balanced. And when we’re fully rested, it’s much easier to manage our emotions and make thoughtful decisions. One interesting study found a notable connection between trouble sleeping and a lack of vitamins A, C, D, E, and K. Another study suggested that increasing our intake of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and vegetable oils can help us sleep better. 

A healthy diet boosts our serotonin levels. Serotonin is the hormone that helps stabilize our mood and help us feel happier, and while we can’t eat serotonin, we can eat tryptophan, an amino acid the body uses to create serotonin. A lot of the lists of tryptophan-rich foods are full of animal products, but a little extra research will show that there are plenty of plant-based foods to eat to boost this much-needed amino acid. Boost your intake of the following to give yourself a natural boost of serotonin:

  • Tofu (firm tofu has 212% of your recommended daily intake per cup) 
  • Tempeh (115% of your recommended daily intake per cup) 
  • Pumpkin seeds (206% of your RDI per 100g) 
  • Quinoa (34% of RDI per cup) 
  • Brown rice (21% of RDI per cup) 
  • Sweet potatoes (33% of RDI per cup) 
  • Soba noodles (29% of RDI per cup) 
  • Broccoli (19% of RDI per cup) 
  • Avocado (18% of RDI per avocado) 

Saturated fats and sugars are linked to depression. A diet that contains a lot of saturated fats and refined sugars causes inflammation in the body, and inflammation around the brain (this is minute, not like when a joint swells when you injure it!) has been linked to feelings of depression and other mood disorders. While our bodies crave the quick hit of dopamine (the reward neurotransmitter) we get when we eat sugar, we can avoid the long-term effects of neuroinflammation by keeping sweet treats to a minimum. 

A balanced diet triggers a positive cycle of self-care. These days, we often imagine self-care as a series of bubble baths, movie marathons, and indulgent treats. And that’s certainly one form of self-care! But the most basic and important form of self-care comes in the form of eating well. When we eat well, we feel better physically and mentally, and it’s much easier to stick to healthy habits that cultivate long-term wellbeing. 

The better we feel physically, the better we’re likely to feel mentally. While eating healthily won’t magically solve all our issues, we can give ourselves the best chance of good mental health by being physically healthy. Ultimately, food is fuel, and if the fuel you put into your body isn’t of good quality, you won’t operate at 100%. By eating well, you’ll experience less discomfort in other areas of your body which can quickly bring your mood down.

 

While nutrition alone can’t always defend against those times when our mental health takes a dip, it can help you feel more well-rounded more often. We know that it’s not always possible to eat a perfectly well-balanced meal, especially when you’re not feeling yourself, so taking a multivitamin can help fill in the gaps and give your body the best chance to get the nutrition it needs. Our Vegan Vitality is a great place to start. 

To prioritize your self-care and ensure your body has everything it needs to support you, explore our full range of products here

Hannah is a passionate health writer who believes that any time spent educating people on how to better care for themselves is time well-spent. When not behind a keyboard, she’s out in the countryside with her two dogs or whipping up something tasty in the kitchen. You can find more from her at StrongCreatives.Agency.

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