Is there a link between an unhealthy diet and mental health?

The old saying goes you are what you eat, which begs the question: Can what you put in your mouth affect your mind? We take a look at how an unhealthy diet can negatively impact your mental health.
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The old saying goes “You are what you eat”, which begs the question: Can what you put in your mouth affect your mind?

Traditional diet vs western diet: Which has more impact on mental health?

A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry looked at the association of western and traditional diets and the development of depression in over 1,000 women. Researchers found those with ‘traditional’ diets, characterised as being rich in whole grains, fruit and vegetables, had lower rates of mental disorders.

A western’ diet, characterised as being full of highly processed, fried foods, with refined grains, sugar and beer, as having a higher incidence of dysthymia, major depression and anxiety disorders. Other studies show this ‘western’ diet increases the risk of mental disorders by 35%.

Why does this effect occur?

It could be due to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which assists in the regulation of sleep, appetite, moods and inhibition of pain.

Your gastrointestinal tract is lined with millions of neurons, which produce the majority of serotonin. So it’s obvious that your digestive system doesn’t just help you process food, it also helps direct your emotions.

Furthermore, how these neurons function is also impacted upon by the billions of good bacteria that exist in your gut which serve to protect you from toxins and bad bacteria.

Good bacteria also influence how well your body absorbs nutrients from what you eat and activates the neural pathways that travel between the digestive system and the brain.

Your gut affects the way you store fat, your blood glucose levels and how you react to hormones that make you feel hungry or full.

How can changing your diet help?

So we’ve established that your gut is like your second brain and you need to take care of it!

The most beneficial thing you can do for your gut microbes is to eat ‘good bacteria’ or probiotics. Probiotics have been proven to reduce anxiety and perception of stress and the overall improvement of mental outlook.

Fermented foods are the best for good bacteria, think sauerkraut, tempeh, kefir, kimchi or miso. If you’ve tried these and they aren’t to your taste, try broccoli, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, seaweed, flaxseed, garlic, bananas and apples – these foods are gut and good bacteria friendly.

Make sure you also provide your good bacteria with ‘prebiotics’ to thrive, such as other fruit, vegetables and whole grains, especially fibre.

Check out The Healthy Mummy’s recipes for healthy ideas on how to incorporate these foods into your daily diet. Have you tried The Healthy Mummy’s Tummy Smoothie? It’s got a range of these good bacteria and gut-friendly foods to help you increase your gut health.

In the end, you certainly are what you eat! Science has proved it, as have the thousands of mums on our 28 Day Weight Loss Challenge. All you have to do this new year is prove it to yourself! You got this.


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