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List of foods that are good and bad for mental health

Mental health is a serious concern in this country. The World Health Organisation defines mental health as a “state of well-being where a person can realise their own potential, cope with life’s daily stressors, work productively and contribute to their community.” If a person is suffering from depression or anxiety, two of the most common forms of mental health disorders, your quality of life is likely to suffer. Bloom Financial Services, along with their partner, Momentum Health4Me, urge you to take good care of your mental health and to practice self-care. Find out how you can do so by sticking to a healthy diet.

Food for mental health

Multiple studies have shown a clear link between the type of food we eat and brain function. Some foods can result in impaired mental functioning and can actually make the symptoms of depression or anxiety even worse. Food plays such a significant role in both our physical and mental health, so if you do suffer from depression or anxiety, making some simple changes to your diet could make the world of difference to your state of mind.

What foods are bad for mental health?

1. Sugar

Eating excess sugar, especially refined sugar, can lead to depression, anxiety and other mood disorders. It’s also a leading cause of other health-related issues, like obesity. This is because sugar can weaken the body’s ability to deal with stress. In addition, to which, a diet high in sugar also causes imbalances in the brain’s chemicals, which can lead to poor mental functioning. Sugar withdrawals can even cause side-effects, like irritability, increased anxiety, confusion and fatigue, which is typical of addictive substances. Limit your refined sugar intake and instead, tuck into complex carbohydrates, like fruit, grains and vegetables, which contain natural sugars.

2. Alcohol

Alcohol abuse or dependency has been linked with poor mental health issues for quite some time. A person battling depression or anxiety may often self-medicate with alcohol as a coping mechanism. However, this can only aggravate their symptoms or disorders because alcohol depresses the central nervous system, which controls how one processes their emotions.

3. Caffeine

Caffeine is an easy pick-me-up if you’re feeling a bit fatigued or run-down. Unfortunately, it can also contribute to depression. The reason being is that caffeine interrupts one’s sleep quality, which leads to disturbed sleep patterns that will have an impact on your mental state. If you do enjoy a cup of coffee or an energy drink, remember to consume these in moderation and to avoid caffeine after midday to ensure you get a good night’s sleep.

4. Trans fats

Trans fats are those fats which don’t occur naturally in foods. It is an artificially created fat that is derived from liquid vegetable oil converted into hydrogenated oil. It’s often found in deep-fried foods or baked goods. Consuming large quantities of foods with a high trans-fat content is not only bad for your health, as it can clog your arteries, but it’s also linked to depression. Opt for the healthier, polyunsaturated fat options, like avocadoes or olive oil.

5. High sodium

Foods with a high sodium content, which is usually found in fast food or very processed foods, can negatively disrupt your mental functioning. This is because a diet high in sodium will deplete your serotonin levels, the neurotransmitter responsible for making one feel happy and contented. Limit your take-outs to special occasions only and choose to dine on healthy, fresh produce instead.

What foods are good for mental health?

1. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for healthy brain function and development. It’s believed to be involved in the functioning of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that is important in the regulation of mood. Omega-3 fatty acid sources include:

  • Cold-water fish, like salmon, sardines or tuna
  • Flaxseed oil and chia seeds

2. Selenium

Selenium is a micro-nutrient with a wealth of benefits. Not only does it improves the immune system against bacterial and viral infections, but it also helps regulate cholesterol levels. Selenium-rich foods have been found to alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Sources of selenium include:

  • Whole grains, like brown rice 
  • Brazil nuts 
  • Eggs
  • Organ meat, like liver

3. Vitamin D

The ‘sunshine vitamin’ is an essential, fat-soluble nutrient that is important for good bone health, cell growth and the immune system. It has also been found that those with a vitamin D deficiency are at risk for developing depression and other mental health problems. While most people are able to absorb enough vitamin D from sun exposure, dietary supplements also help to keep your vitamin D levels in order. Some fod sources include: 

  • Fortified foods, like orange juice or cereals
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Animal fats 

4. Vitamin B

Vitamins B-12 (Folate) and B-9 (Folic Acid) are known to protect and maintain the nervous system, including brain functioning. Reduce the risk of developing a mood disorder by ensuring you have adequate sources of vitamin B in your diet. Some of these include: 

  • Poultry, like chicken
  • Yoghurt 
  • Shellfish
  • Eggs 
  • Fortified cereals

5. Antioxidants

Vitamins A (Beta Carotene), C and E contain a substance known as antioxidants. These antioxidants remove free radicals, or waste products, that build-up in the body. If the body is unable to remove free radicals, oxidative stress will occur, which could result in poor mental functioning, amongst other health problems. Some sources of antioxidant-rich foods include:

  • Berries, like blueberries and strawberries
  • Dark chocolate
  • Kale and spinach
  • Red cabbage
  • Beetroot

6. Probiotics

Some studies have discovered that bacteria and microorganisms, which live in your gut play a significant role in helping reduce inflammation in the body, which in turns affects your stress levels and responses. This could be the reason why some people who experience digestive problems, like irritable bowel syndrome or stomach ulcers, report high levels of stress or anxiety. Keep your gut and mind healthy with these probiotic food sources:

  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tofu
  • Yoghurt

Mental health care with Momentum Health4Me

Mental health is a broad term used to describe our emotional, psychological and social well-being. At Bloom, we have affordable health insurance options that cover our members for specialist visits, should you need to visit a psychiatrist if you’re experiencing poor mental health, like depression. This plan is available to Momentum Health4Me Gold medical insurance members, who are limited to two visits per year, at a limit of R1,000 per consultation. 

Bloom Financial Services recommends living a healthy lifestyle. Good mental health means you are in a position to perform life’s key activities while managing a range of emotions, both good and bad.

Ensure you are able to do so by watching your diet and make sure you’re covered for quality medical services. Contact our team for your health insurance quotes

Medical Content Disclaimer

You understand and acknowledge that all users of the Bloom Financial Services website are responsible for their own medical care, treatment, and oversight. All content provided on the website, is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Neither is it intended to be a substitute for an independent professional medical opinion, judgement, diagnosis or treatment.