The Mental Health & Nutrition Connection
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in six adults in the United States (44.7 million adults in the year of 2016) struggled with mental illness.
However, considering that stigma gets in the way of reporting such challenges, these numbers are likely underestimated reflections of reality. In an effort to de-stigmatize mental health struggles, NBA stars Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan and Kelly Oubre Jr. openly broke their silence and spoke out about their own battles with depression and anxiety.
“Mental health isn’t just an athlete thing,” DeRozan told The Star. “What you do for a living doesn’t have to define who you are. This is an everyone thing. No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside.”
Often enough, being strong is entangled with invulnerability. Therefore, discussing topics relating to mental health that might still be viewed as a “taboo” in today’s society, especially in athletics, encourages people to be willing and open to reaching out for help without feeling shame or guilt.
“I didn’t want people to perceive me as somehow less reliable as a teammate, and it all went back to the playbook I’d learned growing up: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own,” Love told The Players’ Tribune.
Mental health, mood and wellbeing are not only affected by physical and psychological factors, but also by proper nutrition. The human brain is constantly switched “on” — processing thoughts, emotions, movements and endless physiological processes 24/7, which showcases the importance of properly nourishing and fueling the brain through one’s diet — whether you are an NBA athlete, a parent, a student or just a living, breathing human being.
Nutrition directly alters brain function, affecting mood, energy and mental health. For instance, consuming highly nutritious foods packed with vitamins, minerals, fibers and antioxidants protects the brain against oxidative damage and procures it with good quality fuel to properly carry out its functions.
On the contrary, feeding on nutrient-poor foods will only tamper with brain and bodily processes, eventually worsening symptoms of mood disorders. One’s good mood results from specific chemicals influencing neural responses in the brain. Factors such as fibers, probiotics, healthy carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants have been reported to possess mood-enhancing properties.
Below is a list of “Good Mood Foods” scientifically proven to ameliorate mood by relieving stress, anxiety, promoting productivity and releasing mood-boosting neurotransmitters (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins, catecholamine) in the brain.
GOOD MOOD FOOD
- Probiotics + Fermented Foods: pickles, kombucha, sauerkraut, sourdough, kimchi, miso, tempeh, yogurt (probiotic-enriched).
- Fiber: whole grains (amaranth, buckwheat, barley, oats, rye, bulgur); legumes (beans, chickpeas, peanuts, lentils); dark leafy green vegetables (turnip greens, spinach, Swiss chard); cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower); nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds); berries. • Mediterranean Diet Foods/Healthy Fats: olive or canola oil, herbs and spices, fatty fish and seafood (such as salmon), plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts).
- Green Tea & Matcha
- Dark Chocolate & Cocoa
- Lean Proteins: seafood, skinless chicken or turkey breast, less than 90-percent lean grass-fed beef, legumes, tofu.
- Coffee in moderation — no more than 400 mg/day which is equal to 4 cups of brewed coffee — depending on type/brand.
Just as some foods promote better mental health and improve mood, other foods do the exact opposite. Research has shown that high-sugar, high-fat and highly processed nutrient-poor foods are more commonly consumed by individuals with anxiety, depression and high levels of chronic stress. These foods have negative effects on memory, mood, neurotransmitter production and inflammation. For instance, processed foods and baked goods are linked to depression, aggression, anxiety and worsened mental illness symptoms while high-sugar foods often promote irritability and worsened mood. Here is a comprehensive list of “Bad Mood Foods” explaining the rationale behind negative effects these foods have on mental health and wellbeing.
BAD MOOD FOOD
- Excess Coffee/Caffeine & Alcohol
- High Mercury Fish such as king mackerel, shark, swordfish and skipjack tuna.
- High Sugar Beverages (soda, fruit juice, energy drinks, sports drinks)
- High-Sodium Packaged Foods (deli meat, soups, chips, packaged desserts, ready-made meals, frozen foods and salad dressings).
- Refined Carbohydrates (breads, bagels, pastas, cookies, crackers, sweets).
Mood and mental wellbeing are clearly impacted by food choices and lifestyle habits. A balanced diet rich in whole grains/vegetables/fruits and low in caffeine/alcohol is a useful way to shield against impaired cognitive functioning, lowered energy and depressed mood. After all, a healthy body equals a healthy mind.
Stacy Goldberg is a nationally recognized nutritional consultant, registered nurse and the CEO of Savorfull, a Detroit-based company that sources healthy, allergen-friendly foods and provides nutrition-consulting. Savorfull is part of the Quicken Loans Family of Companies.
NO INFORMATION PROVIDED THROUGH STACY GOLDBERG/SAVORFULL IS INTENDED TO DIAGNOSE, TREAT, CURE OR PREVENT ANY DISEASE. YOU SHOULD ALWAYS SPEAK WITH YOUR PHYSICIAN OR OTHER HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL BEFORE TAKING ANY MEDICATION OR NUTRITIONAL, HERBAL OR HOMEOPATHIC SUPPLEMENT, OR ADOPTING ANY TREATMENT OR IMPLEMENTING NUTRITIONAL ADVICE FOR A HEALTH PROBLEM.