Have you ever thought about addressing your mental health through dieting? We aren’t saying it’s a substitute for medication or help from a professional. But we are saying food can impact your mental health.
The thing to keep in mind is that diets can help or harm your mental health. It all depends on who you are, your mental health needs, what diet it is, and how you adhere to that diet. Let’s analyze four diets, how they can affect your mental health, and tips for making them work.
The ketogenic diet, also known as the keto diet, is a low-carb, high-fat diet. By drastically reducing your carb intake and replacing those carbs with fats, your body will enter into a metabolic state known as ketosis. Your body then starts to burn fat for energy.
Potential mental health effects: In addition to burning fat for energy, ketosis turns fat into ketones in the liver, and they supply energy to the brain. This can help you maintain focus, concentration, and clarity.
On the other hand, keto can be harmful to your mental health if you decide to eat a lot of unhealthy fats in the high-fat part of the diet. Processed food and sugar, for example, have fat, but the fat from these choices isn’t healthy for the mind or the body.
How to make it work: Whether you’re attacking the low-carb or the high-fat part of the diet, your food choices should be healthy. For example, instead of a low-carb bag of chips, eat low-carb veggies like tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Instead of using processed vegetable oils and mayo, use extra-virgin olive oil and goat cheese.
Intermittent fasting requires you to switch between periods of fasting and eating. It isn’t so much about what you eat as it is about when you eat. There are various intermittent fasting methods, including:
- The 5:2 diet — your calorie intake is restricted to 500-600 calories a day, two days a week, and the other five days, you can take in a regular amount of calories.
- The 16/8 method — you skip breakfast, eat during a specific eight-hour period, and fast the remaining 16 hours.
- The eat-stop-eat method — two non-consecutive days a week, you fast for 24 hours.
Potential mental health effects: Fasting isn’t for the faint-hearted. Especially when starting, you can feel so hungry that you scrap the diet and binge eat. In addition, not getting enough food or eating regularly can lead to low energy, cognitive decline, and unstable moods.
How to make it work: When you can eat, eat for energy. Intentionally choosing foods that help you stay energized throughout the day can lessen the burden intermittent fasting places on your mental and physical health. Lean meats, leafy greens, berries, and healthy fats are great energy-inducing food choices.
The Paleo Diet
The paleo diet emphasizes eating foods that were consumed during the Paleolithic Era. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors got by on fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats, eggs, nuts, and seeds. And the sentiment is that anyone on this diet should too.
Potential mental health effects: Although the above food choices can fuel the body and mind, we’re missing three fundamental options: grains, dairy products, and legumes. Whole grains, beans, and dairy produce good gut bacteria. The gut and brain are so closely linked that having these foods in your diet genuinely does make a difference.
How to make it work: Create a more flexible paleo diet that includes small grain, bean, and dairy portions. You don’t have to include them in every meal, but strive to introduce them to at least one per day.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet consists of a spread of healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, seafood, whole grains, and healthy fats. It remains one of the top diets because it’s easy to follow and highly effective.
Potential mental health effects: The Mediterranean diet can boost brain health, improving your ability to think, as well as retain information and process it effectively. A well-balanced diet such as this also increases energy and inspires a better mood.
How to make it work: Start small. It can be difficult to transition to an all-around healthy diet if you’re coming from an all-around unhealthy one. Try replacing one meal with a more nutritious option every day. Then, when you get that down, replace two, and so forth.
Understand that a diet isn’t a substitute for traditional mental healthcare, no matter how many people rave about how it’s helped their mental health. A diet should only be a part of your mental healthcare regime, not the entirety of it.
We cannot discount or deny the importance of the link between nutrition and mental health. However, we do suggest you thoroughly research any diet you’re considering for the purpose of improving your mental state.
Note that diets affect everyone differently. So, take the safe route and consult your doctor before trying any diet. This will ensure it’s right for your body and can support your unique mental health needs. When in doubt, eat mindfully and include a variety of healthy food options in your diet.