A global pandemic. Soaring inflation. Worldwide economic volatility. The world has been through a lot in the last few years. And that means that rates of anxiety and depression have skyrocketed from their already record-setting pre-pandemic levels.
The good news, though, is that you don’t have to be imprisoned in a cycle of worry and unhappiness. There are changes you can make today to help you reduce your risk for anxiety and depression. Among the most significant of these changes is the cultivation of a diet specifically designed to support your mental health.
Prioritize Whole (and Unprocessed) Foods
When you’re looking for a mood-boosting diet, getting your fill of essential vitamins and minerals while eliminating the unhealthy fillers is key. This means focusing on whole, natural foods, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables.
Packing your diet with fresh, whole foods also means that you’re going to be eating fewer processed foods, which can be highly beneficial to your mental well-being. Processed foods are generally loaded with sodium, preservatives, and artificial coloring and flavoring.
Above all, highly processed foods tend to be full of added sugar, which is certainly not something you need if you are hoping to feel better in both body and mind. Sugar can be detrimental to your health because it’s a known inflammatory agent, which can increase your risk for chronic disease, persistent pain, and a lower overall quality of life.
Choose “Smart” Carbs
Carbohydrates are essential for a nutritious, well-balanced diet. However, when it comes to your mental health, not all carbs are created equal. Simple carbohydrates are generally converted by the body into sugar which, as noted above, can have negative impacts on your mind and body. This means that you shouldn’t turn to cakes, cookies, pasta, and other foods made from white flour.
Instead, opt for complex carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Complex carbohydrates appear to trigger the release of calming neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin, and thus have a soothing effect similar to that of antianxiety medications.
In addition to infusing your diet with fresh fruits and vegetables and avoiding processed foods, it’s also a good idea to reduce or even eliminate your alcohol intake. Not only is alcohol a known depressant, but it can also lead to an exacerbation of anxiety symptoms — especially if you’ve developed a dependency and are attempting to abstain.
If you suffer from depression or anxiety and turn to alcohol to cope with your symptoms, you’ll likely find that drinking only amplifies rather than reduces your mental distress. It’s all too easy to start with only a drink or two and ultimately consume too many. It may offer some short-term alleviation, but you’re better off without it in the long run.
One of your most powerful weapons in the fight against mental illness is your diet. You can reduce your risk for anxiety and depression by avoiding processed foods and simple sugars and turning instead to fresh, whole fruits, vegetables, and grains. Similarly, reducing your alcohol intake or eliminating alcohol means avoiding the depressant effects of the substance while preventing the depression and anxiety that can arise from dependency.
Katie Brenneman is a passionate writer specializing in lifestyle, mental health, and fitness-related content. When she isn’t writing, you can find her with her nose buried in a book or hiking with her dog, Charlie. To connect with Katie, you can follow her on Twitter.
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