There is increasing evidence that what you eat has a strong influence not only on your physical health, but your mental health as well. In other words, if you eat well, you’ll more likely feel well.
Research by the National Institute of Health, reported in the Harvard University Medical School Journal and The New York Times, found that “adhering to a healthy diet, in particular a traditional Mediterranean diet, or avoiding a pro-inflammatory diet appears to confer some protection against depression”. In other words, it’s not only that you are what you eat, but you feel how you eat as well!
It turns out that it’s not just about eating foods that have nutrients that are good for your brain (although that helps), but it’s also about eating things that help you maintain a good balance of bacteria in your gut. The connection between your gut and your brain is much, much more important than most of us would ever have thought. (maybe that explains why we feel so many emotions in your stomach!)
An excerpt from the Harvard Medical School article below that provides some details for eating well, but in general, eating whole foods (real foods not processed, think fruits not fruit juices etc) limiting red meats and dairy, and getting a good balance of vegetables and grains are the key points in eating well to feel well.
Eat Well to Feel Well Considerations for You and Your Family
If this applies for adults, think about how much more it applies for kids and teenagers who can be moody to begin with, and who tend to consume more of the sugary drinks and highly processed foods (hello Cool Ranch Doritos) which are exactly the kinds of foods called out in this research to be avoided. You may not be able to convince your 15-year-old to limit snacks to baby carrots and olives, but you can help to balance out what they eat by serving meals that are built around whole foods that are good for both their bodies and minds.
You’re probably thinking “yeah but that takes work and time that I don’t have”. Actually, it doesn’t have to be that hard.
Making “Eating Well” Easy and Affordable
A common misconception is that it costs more to eat well, and it takes more work. Certainly, preparing a meal from real food ingredients takes more time than popping a pre-prepared packaged meal into the microwave, but it’s usually less expensive, more satisfying, and so much better for you, and your brain.
Meal Planning is probably the number one thing that can make it easy. It’s not easy to eat well if you are doing the 5:30 scramble trying to figure out what to have for dinner. But if you have a plan, then its not hard at all. Figuring out what to have is more than half the battle.
Having the ingredients is the next most important thing. If you have a plan and you know you have the ingredients, then it’s just about preparing the meal, and that can actually be fun and relaxing.
There are all sorts of tools and services to help you with this. For example, we have published a Meal Planning guide for those of you who like to do things yourself. Or for about $1 a week, our meal planning service provides a customized menu based on your food preferences with whole-food recipes that are easy to make (most 30 minutes or less) , and which are individually created for each member to optimize use of grocery store sales, which can save you way more than the $1 a week cost. There are lots of other recipe sites and meal planning services out there as well, some of which are detailed in our guide.
To sum it up
Even though we all know we need to eat well for our health, fewer of us realize how important our diet is to our mental well being and mood.
To end, here are the specific summary points from the Harvard Medical School article that serve as a good guide to help you eat well to feel well.
- Eat whole foods and avoid packaged or processed foods, which are high in unwanted food additives and preservatives that disrupt the healthy bacteria in the gut.
- Instead of vegetable or fruit juice, consider increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. Frozen fruits without added sugars/additives are a good choice too.
- Eat enough fiber and include whole grains and legumes in your diet.
- Include probiotic-rich foods such as plain yogurt without added sugars.
- To reduce sugar intake at breakfast, add cinnamon to plain yogurt with berries, or to oatmeal or chia pudding.
- Adding fermented foods such as kefir (unsweetened), sauerkraut, or kimchi can be helpful to maintain a healthy gut.
- Eat a balance of seafoods and lean poultry, and less red meat each week.
- Add a range of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet, and consider choosing certain organic produce.