What’s the Connection Between Nutrition and Mental Health?
While the link between unhealthy food and obesity is known to most people, not everyone realises that what we eat can also have an influence on our well-being.
What is Nutritional Psychiatry?
Nutritional psychiatry is a discipline that recognises the importance of healthy eating and its influence on mental health. What we eat can disrupt the balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut and lead to inflammation linked to many physical health problems. Since the gut is involved with mood and cognition due to the majority of serotonin receptors being located there, consuming unhealthy food can also negatively impact our mental well-being.
Serotonin is a chemical responsible for regulating our mood and some antidepressants work by increasing its levels in the brain. However, many antidepressants come with unpleasant side effects that often include stomach problems, which indicates that there’s indeed a connection between the gut and the brain. For example, one study published in the journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a diet rich in inflammatory foods is associated with psychological distress, depression and more frequent anxiety. 
And while the argument is often that people who suffer from mental health disorders often fail to take care of themselves and reach for unhealthy foods because it’s easier than cooking, there’s evidence that a poor diet might make you more vulnerable to developing mental health issues in the first place. The study published in Scientific Reports analysed data from men and women over a period of 22 years and found that those with mental health disorders weren’t more likely to consume more sugar, which implies that mental health might be negatively affected by high sugar intake.  Additionally, men who consumed more than 67g of sugar had a 23% more chance of developing a mental health disorder after 5 years.
But whether eating unhealthy food leads to worsened mental health or the other way round, introducing healthier options to your diet can have a positive influence on your well-being. The intake of anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits and vegetables was found to reduce the risk of depression.  A good idea might also be to take supplements. For example, in the research published in Plos One participants took part in 6 weeks of treatment that consisted of receiving magnesium supplements and noted improved symptoms of anxiety and depression upon completion of the study. 
Eating healthy isn’t easy. Removing sugar from your diet might lead to withdrawal symptoms that can make you feel depressed and more tired than usual, which is why it’s important to cut down on unhealthy food gradually. But if you struggle to change your habits and have an unhealthy relationship with food, it would be helpful to speak to a mental health professional. Contact My Family Psychologist for a confidential chat.
 High sugar intake linked with poorer long-term mental health | UCL News – UCL – University College London