By Haneen Ahmad, MSW, LICSW

Can nutrition affect your mental health? TOTALLY.

If you are anything like me, good food makes your heart and soul dance. People underestimate the power that food can have over your mental health. Your brain on food is a much happier, healthier you. Not just any food though, food that is colorful, packed with nutrients and leaves you feeling fulfilled. 

Have you ever heard that your belly controls your brain?

Yup, there’s truth to it. What we put in our body fuels us. Poor nutrition is a risk factor for mental illness that many people overlook. Medication surely has a place in aiding with mental health challenges. However, let’s shift our focus a bit and use food as a front line form of treatment for mental health. Of course, like most methods, this doesn’t work as well as an isolated method. You will want to couple healthy eating habits with, hydrations, regulated sleep patterns, positive thinking, and moving your body in a way that feels good to you. 

Parents should take this into special consideration when planning meals and snacks for their families. These days, fast foods, sugar-loaded bars, and soft drinks are go-to options, unfortunately. And I get it, we are carting kids around from one activity to the next, we have more working parents than ever before, and there are only so many hours in the day. But the truth is, these types of diets not only lead to physical health problems but can also be contributors to a higher prevalence of ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) in kids. Not to mention, Harvard studies have shown, “a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.”

So let’s steer away from the sugar-filled or highly processed foods, and refined grains and let’s focus on fresh produce and healthy fats. I try to buy local and organic as much as possible when I can’t grow my own.

Whether I am preparing a meal or a snack, here are some of the go-to recipes that hit the spot and leave me feeling great:

Pomegranate, Barely, Freekah Salad

Roasted Figs + Halloumi Cheese Salad

Peanut-butter Energy Bites

Indian Spiced Chickpea Salad

Kefta Meat Kebabs

Lentil Soup- Harira

Optimizing nutrition vastly improves your mental health. You don’t have to do it all overnight. Start small. Small dietary changes can have a huge impact on your quality of life. Nutrition isn’t just important for your physical health, it impacts your overall emotional wellbeing as well. Next time you take a bite, consider the connection between food and mental health. Make your next meal a colorful, healthy one and your body and mind will thank you. 


More from the blog: A Quick Guide To Intuitive Eating

Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. We do not know who benefits from dietary manipulation alone. These suggestions are not to take the place of therapy, monitored medication plans or medical advice. Always check with your medical provider and mental health therapist before making lifestyle/dietary changes or to inquire more about the link between food and mental health.