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Tackling Mental Health One Meal at a Time

Close up of a male hands cutting and eating delicious salad withThere is so much information out there about eating healthy to get in shape. Broader society has a general idea of an ideal shape that is ever-evolving and almost always an airbrushed, unattainable goal. Ideally the information at your fingertips should be about self-improvement through and through, not predominantly outwardly. The reality is that what you are putting into your body may be contributing to issues with depression, and in turn, your self-esteem.

Although popular media may tell you otherwise, working on a happier, healthier self starts from the inside out.

The word “diet” may make you cringe, but it simply refers to what you decide to put into your body. For the purposes of creating a happier self — and a rise in self-esteem — it is important to stay away from certain foods. Artificial sweeteners and processed foods have been directly linked to higher rates of depression. In fact, a study done at the University of Northwestern Ohio had to be stopped early because some of the participants started having suicidal thoughts.

Many studies have shown that diet has an immense impact on mental health. It may surprise you to know that it’s your stomach that produces and contains the largest amount of serotonin, a mood-boosting neurotransmitter, not your brain. The key to a happy, healthy mind and body is to make sure you are getting the needed micronutrients and avoiding the processed, refined foods that contribute to depression and weight gain.

Below are some foods to avoid:

  • High-sodium foods. Not only does sodium contribute to bloating and water retention, but it also disturbs your neurological system, contributing to depression.
  • Fast food. Fast food is equally bad for you physically and mentally. It is fried in hydrogenated oils that contribute to clogged arteries, blocking blood flow to the brain. Research from Public Health Nutrition showed that people who ate fast food regularly were over 50 percent more likely to become depressed.
  • Sugar. For those of you with a massive sweet tooth, this means you. Researchers for Diabetologia found that when blood glucose levels rise, a protein that helps the growth of neurons and synapses falls — meaning your brain starts working at lower levels. The more sugar you ingest, the greater your risk for depression, and the deeper your depression can become.Artificial sweeteners are much worse. Aspartame, which is found in many artificial sweeteners, blocks production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, leading to headaches, insomnia, and depression.

Those are some of the heavy hitters that contribute to an unhealthy state of mind. For many of us body image is not a concern. It is important, however, to be aware of your mental health and the foods that contribute to your state of mind. Below are some foods that can contribute to better mental health.

  • Walnuts. Not only do they look much like a brain when you crack the shell, they also contain large amounts of omega-3s, which contribute to overall brain health. Add them to a salad or eat them as a snack by themselves. They are a smart, tasty choice.
  • Turmeric. Called the “spice of life” by many, this is a bright addition that can be added to an array of meals. It is a great anti-inflammatory and there is evidence that it can boost the mood-boosting neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.
  • Dark chocolate. Satiate that sweet tooth with some dark chocolate. Dark chocolate has about 150 calories per ounce, so everything in moderation, but it is a very sweet, very enjoyable way to naturally increase serotonin levels. It also relaxes the blood vessels in the cardiovascular system.

I have met many people who don’t fit the current beauty mold. But when they smile brightly and their personality shines, the first thing I think is, “Wow, this person is really beautiful.” Happiness translates and transcends trends. Creating an emotionally and mentally healthy space for yourself is what is most important.

Tackling Mental Health One Meal at a Time

Rose Rennar

Rose is a proud mother first and passionate writer second. Born and raised in Los Angeles, California she recently moved to beautiful Boise, Idaho. She graduated from New York University with a B.A. in Journalism and her masters in Media, Culture and Communication. The MCC program was a great progression and catalyst in her desire to continue to seek outlets of expression through writing. After graduation she worked for local media outlets both online and in print, even working as an editor for online entertainment magazine, The Exposition. When she isn’t busy freelancing, writing or editing you can find her at a desk somewhere toiling away at her own fiction writing.

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APA Reference
Rennar, R. (2018). Tackling Mental Health One Meal at a Time. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 9 Jul 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.