Eating healthily not only has an impact on our physical health, but it has a positive effect on our mental health too. As food acts as fuel to power the brain, it makes sense that what we eat impacts the way our brain functions and the way we feel.
Throughout active addiction, it’s likely that your diet was compromised. Using substances may have also had a negative impact on your mood. For example, you may have constantly felt depressed, anxious, and stressed out. Fortunately, changing your eating habits and becoming aware of your diet during recovery can increase your happiness, motivation, and control, making the journey to life-long sobriety much smoother.
With Mental Wellness Month coming up, now is a great time to give healthy eating a go. Creating an eating plan with mental health benefits at its core will help you progress through recovery feeling stronger and more resilient.
The Importance of Good Nutrition
Research has highlighted the importance of a varied diet that enables us to ingest nutrients the body and brain need for many years. For example, as the brain generally consumes 20% of a person’s calorie intake each day and has high nutritional needs, it’s vital to practice good nutrition.
Although many people affected by addiction overlook the benefits of a good diet, eating a range of foods from various food groups is recommended in recovery.
If you wonder why this is, we have delved into some of the most important food groups and how they can benefit your health below.
Carbohydrates are vital in providing the energy your body and brain need to function and concentrate. When we reduce our carbohydrate intake, the brain and body lack energy, leaving us feeling weak, foggy, and tired. However, eating regular meals containing some carbohydrates is an easy way to combat these sensations and enhance our energy levels.
In addition to having a positive effect on our energy, consuming carbohydrates leads to increased physical activity, which benefits our mental health.
As you may be aware, some sources of carbohydrates are healthier than others. These include:
- Fruit and vegetables
Though some carbohydrates benefit our health, it’s advised to limit intake of unhealthy carbohydrates, such as white bread, pastries, potato chips, and fries. Doing so will help your blood glucose remain steady, rather than causing it to rise and fall rising rapidly.
Protein and Fats
Protein contains amino acids, which help regulate thoughts and feelings. These can be found in foods such as:
If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, a wide range of soy products, such as tofu, will offer you the essential amino acids your brain and body require.
Vitamins and Minerals
In addition to consuming protein and carbohydrates, eating a varied and balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables will see you absorb plenty of vitamins and minerals. However, if you lack these, you may experience adverse side effects.
For example, a diet lacking iron can make you feel weak and tired, and a diet lacking in vitamin B can leave you feeling irritable, low, and exhausted. Furthermore, you can be left feeling depressed without enough folate, and without adequate selenium, you may be exposed to a persistent low mood. This is why it is vital to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day alongside a balanced diet.
How Can the Gut Affect Mood?
The link between the gut and someone’s mood is so powerful that the gut is often referred to as the ‘second brain’. Around 95% of your body’s serotonin, a chemical messenger that regulates mood and happiness, is produced in the gut, so it makes sense then that the gut’s health can guide emotions.
The collection of bacteria in your gut is known as the gut microbiome, and many foods can impact the type of bacteria found there. In general, the more diverse the microbiome, the healthier you will be, as the bacteria will provide tremendous health benefits.
Eating fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi additionally advocates good bacteria in the gut. As noted above, eating plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, and fiber and reducing your intake of processed foods is beneficial.
Although it is vital to consume the foods noted above, it is essential to stay well hydrated, especially as studies suggest that dehydration can contribute to mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, and feeling tense.
Unsure of how much water you should be drinking each day? Medical guidance recommends consuming six to eight glasses of water.
Although mental health issues cannot be fully cured through diet alone, it can’t be denied that food and nutrition play a significant role in our health and well-being. Going through recovery can feel incredibly draining and troublesome, so making positive changes to your diet that can help to keep you focused, motivated, and energized to get through the most difficult days and avoid relapse is recommended.