Get involved

Food and Mental Health

Welcome back, guys! This blog will be all about one of my favourite topics: food. And since this post is part of our mental health series, it will look at how the food we consume influences our mood and mental state. While I was researching this blog topic, I came across some very interesting findings that I want to share with you. Let’s dive right in!


How food influences Mental Health

You might have read on other blogs and articles that there is a tight connection between a healthy diet and stable mental health. Most authors agree on the importance of eating plenty of vegetables, fruits and adding to that, foods that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, like seafood, plant oils, and nuts and seeds. During exam season it is recommended to eat a lot of dark green leafy vegetables (e.g., Arugula and Kale), nuts, seeds, and legumes, such as beans and lentils because they can help with concentration and focus. Complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, fatty acids, and healthy fats help our brain to function well.
This might sound like a generally healthy diet, but, what exactly does this have to do with Mental Health?
Research has shown that there is a strong link between the brain and our guts. They both influence each other. For example, if we are stressed our brain suppresses the production of serotonin – a calming neurotransmitter. The brain influences this production and our mood changes. But this is not a one-way street: Our gut produces 95% of the serotonin in our body. When we eat the previously mentioned foods and nutrition, the production of serotonin continues smoothly and keeps our mental state more stabilized. Contrary to that, processed foods and high amounts of added sugar can lead to inflammation and reduce the production of serotonin. Consequently, leaving us moodier if consumed often.


What about … Chocolate?!

After reading all of this my first thought was “Wait a minute … but what about chocolate? That makes me happy!” So, I dove into some further research. And let me tell you chocolate never disappoints!
Enjoying some chocolate during a stressful day has a similar positive effect on the brain. It increases the levels of serotonin which proves that the positive feeling most people associate with eating chocolate is actually a natural response. Although, I must mention that there is a possibility of eating too much chocolate which will turn the positive influence into a negative one. Eating chocolate the whole day instead of actual meals is sadly not an option.


How can food make you happy?

Even though living with a healthy and outweighed diet has been proven to have all these awesome influences on our mental health, there are also other ways in which food can lift our mood. The hormones that influence our mood positively are not only released by the gut and are, therefore, not solely linked to what food we eat. Serotonin and Dopamine are also released during exercise, while being grateful, in community, and while doing things we enjoy. Preparing a meal that you really enjoy eating – no matter its nutritious score – will have a positive influence on your mood. Likewise having a meal with friends or listening to your favourite song while cooking. Enjoying the process of cooking or having dinner is as important as what you eat.
Trying to keep a diet and restricting yourself forcefully, even though you might be consuming healthy foods, can have a negative effect on your mental state. Eating should be about enjoying food. Even though eating a certain way can have benefits, the most important thing is being kind to yourself, balancing your diet, and actually enjoying what you eat.

Short disclaimer at the end: The information you just read is a collection of articles and blogpost that are all linked down below. I am in no way a health professional and this blog is mainly for entertainment purposes.

If you are currently struggling with your mental health you can find support at WakkerbijBakker or the at your university (UG and Hanze).


About Chocolate: Psychology Today; SF Gate
About Dopamine and Serotonin: News Medical; Good Therapy;
About Food and Mental Health: Aetna; Mind; Harvard Health Publishing; Sutter Health;