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The irrefutable role of nutrition in mental health |23 February 2024

The irrefutable role of nutrition in mental health

One of the organs in your body that never really stops working is your brain! Even when you’re fast asleep your brain doesn’t rest. You should therefore be more mindful of how you can take better care of this important organ which has an impact on both your physical and mental health.

Many of us don’t consciously think about our diet being linked to our mental health. In fact, whilst many of us may be aware that poor dietary intake increases our risk of non-communicable diseases (which is more on the physical health aspect) like diabetes, we are unaware that it can also have a negative effect on our mental health. But before we dive deep into the realm of nutrition and mental health, we should first and foremost ensure that you understand what is meant by the term ‘mental health’.

Although there may be various definitions out there, mental health can be viewed as encompassing our emotions, thoughts and social interactions. It ultimately influences how we behave, feel, cope in different situations, our decision-making, interaction with others and our environment. Mental health is dynamic and evolves throughout the life course, from infancy to older age. Although we often focus more on physical health as it is more tangible, the importance of ensuring sound mental health cannot be overlooked.


Nutritional psychiatry

Nutritional psychiatry is new and emerging, being focused on how the food we eat influences our mental health, in particular, out thoughts, mood and behaviour. Food has been linked to the prevention and treatment of certain mental conditions like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder but it may also exacerbate existing mental health conditions.

A healthy, diversified diet rich in nutrients can help protect against various mental health conditions and improve existing mental health problems. On the flipside, poor dietary choices can increase the risk of mental health conditions like depression.


Diet quality and mental health


Nutritious foods

A diversified diet which includes a variety of high-quality foods from all food groups that is abundant in essential nutrients and other bioactive compounds can help improve mood, reduce stress levels and improve brain health. This includes consumption of plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, local starches like sweet potatoes and breadfruit and healthy oils like olive oil. It also includes animal sources like fish, seafood, chicken, lean meat, eggs and milk products.

It is therefore recommended that you consume a balanced diet every day which includes a mixture of both animal and plant sources which provides essential vitamins like vitamin D, B12, folic acid, minerals like magnesium, zinc and selenium, protein and omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Foods of high quality and nutrient value have been found to reduce the risk of developing mental health conditions and can also be used as part of the treatment given.


Highly processed foods

On the other hand, highly processed foods that are high in sugar in particular has been found to have a negative effect on mental health, leading to mood swings, depression and worsening many mental health problems.

Such foods are of lower quality, usually devoid of essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. They are high in additives, colourings and flavourings that does more harm than good. Highly processed foods when consumed regularly promote inflammation and oxidative stress therefore they can harm brain cells.

Examples of highly processed and refined foods to steer clear of or try to reduce in your daily diet include fizzy drinks or soft drinks, juices, cordials, slush, thick shakes, sweets, chocolate, sweet biscuits, cakes, pastries, malted drinks, sugary cereals, deep-fried foods, chips, crisps, extruded snacks (think ‘Nachos’, ‘Cheetatos’, ‘twisties’), burgers, processed meats like frankfurters, luncheon meat and corned beef.

It is important therefore for you to take stock of what your diet looks like. Is there room for improvement? You should be aiming for a balanced diet filled with fresh, whole and minimally processed foods as often as possible, with a reduction in highly processed foods, despite its seeming convenience. High quality foods as already discussed is key to improving our mental health, but will also improve our overall wellbeing.



Physical activity and mental health

Physical activity has been found to not only benefit your physical health but also your mental health. Not only does it make you feel good, but it improves your cognitive function, allowing you to think more clearly, reduces stress and helps you to remain calm. Physical activity can also be beneficial for those with a mental health disorder.

Existing guidelines encourage 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least 5 times per week but doing something is better than nothing. So, don’t be disheartened if you’re unable to meet this target. Shift your focus away from weight loss and body shape to how the activity makes you feel. Choosing an activity that you look forward to doing will help you stick to it. Some great activities to consider include dancing, swimming, walking and hiking.


Mental health as part of overall health

Mental and physical health should be seen as equally important components of overall health. If you have a mental illness for instance, you will be at risk of developing physical health problems like diabetes and heart disease over time. In the same way, these chronic diseases can also increase your risk for mental illness.

The same lifestyle habits that can influence our physical health will also have an impact on our mental health. In the end we cannot disconnect one from the other. Therefore, when we choose to eat healthy foods, engage in regular physical activity, abstain from smoking and alcohol, get adequate sleep and manage stress, we really are optimising our overall wellbeing.

Thank you for joining us this week on our Eat for Our Health page. Look us up on social media – Eat for our Health Seychelles on Facebook.

Please get in touch by emailing and let us know how you’re doing with these ideas, or better still, let us know how we can help you.


Yours in health

The Nutrition Team

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