Food for Thought: Can Nutrition Change Our Mental Health?

nutrition and addiction recovery

Food shapes our lives in more ways than we can count.

Food brings us together when we gather for meals. It brings new cultures to us via our table. It impacts our physical well-being tremendously. Food can even shape our mental health in fascinating ways. Lack of food can also change our well-being, outlook on life, and physical health.

Within California, over 70% of adults are found to have adequate access to fresh fruits and vegetables within supermarkets in their local neighborhoods. For Placer County specifically, roughly 10% of our community experience food insecurity and cannot regularly get healthy food to appreciate. 

Whether our access to healthy foods is due to the lack of ability to get to a local supermarket, or if it's simply because work has our full attention, and we hardly have time to search for healthy food options, poor access to healthy foods makes us up to 46% less likely to have a healthy diet!

You may be thinking: okay, but how in the world does this matter for my mental health?


You Are What You Eat

A well-known psychiatrist from Columbia University, Dr. Drew Ramsey, has the answer to that question. He told WebMD that “ is potentially the most powerful intervention we have. By helping people shape their diets, we can improve their mental health and decrease their risk of psychiatric disorders." 

And, research is on his side! It has been found that mental health can be impacted by certain vitamins, minerals, and the lack of them. 

You can think of this as if your brain is a car. Just like your car needs fuel, your brain does too. More than that, it is super important that we put the correct type of fuel in us. Just like you’d never put diesel in a car that runs on unleaded, you shouldn’t fuel your body with the wrong foods. In a similar fashion, if you drive your car without filling up for too long, you’ll eventually run out of gas and then you can only coast for so long. Our brains are the same way. 

When we lack the fuel, in the form of nutrients, then we can experience some extreme side effects. Unlike cars, if our brain’s fuel tank is running on empty, it will naturally attempt to substitute our “waste products” as fuel. These are known in the medical field as free radicals, and they are known to be related to: cancer, atherosclerosis (hardening of heart muscles), Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. 

So, it shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that when our brain is essentially trapped in a small enclosed space, flooded by these waste products instead of healthy fuel, that it can have some important impacts on us, mentally and physically. 

This is called “oxidative stress” and it can increase our likelihood to develop issues like alcoholism, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

Also, it is important to remember that personal stress in our lives from work and family life can also take its toll and compound with the oxidative stress our brain experiences from poor nutrition. Not to mention the fact that over 95% of some of our happy hormones like serotonin are produced in our digestive system!

When compared to other jobs, blue-collar workers and small business owners are known to have higher rates of heart-related diseases which can be directly linked to stress levels. 

Blue-collar workers have not only a different set of stressors than any other field of work, but we also have a huge difference in our options for nutrition and food experiences! 

Generally speaking, we tend to eat less sodium (salt) than white-collar workers, but we also eat more calories, typically from carbohydrates and sugars. We also consume more cholesterol than other workers, which can impact our heart health significantly.

But, we don’t have to accept this as a standard for our lives. We can change our nutrition, which will, in turn, help limit the amount of waste products that are fueling our brains, and that will lead us to improved mental health!


Variety is the Spice of Life

The way in which we can change our mental and physical health through better food choices starts by looking at some general guidelines for nutrition. These guidelines are suggestions to help us monitor our nutritional health without having to radically change our habits on a dime. 

So, let’s take a look at the suggestions from

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern. All food and beverage choices matter!
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. Choose various nutrient-dense foods within all food groups.
  3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake.  A diet high in refined sugar is associated with worsening symptoms. 
  4. Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Avoid drinking sugary drinks like sodas, energy drinks, juices, etc.
  5. Support healthy eating patterns for all.  From home to school to work to community, we all need to advocate for better food options for ourselves and our family and friends.

We can also make use of some other resources available on their site like their food, quizzes, and infographics.

Managing our nutrition isn’t the only way for us to implement healthy lifestyle changes for our mental well-being. It is also suggested we try to capitalize on options to spend time exercising. 

Most of us spend a great deal of time at work on our feet and being pretty active, but that doesn’t mean we can revert to being couch potatoes anytime we aren’t working. Try to spend some of your free time also working out by lifting weights and focusing on cardio like running, jogging, and walking.

Of course, we can also put nature to our advantage here too! Again, many of us spend time outside for work, but at the end of the day, we don’t tend to take time to appreciate nature anymore because we’re immersed in it so often. Perhaps taking some time to do a nature walk, or bringing the kids to do a nature scavenger hunt in a local park could allow us to unwind from hard, tiring, dirty work while still getting the mental benefits of spending time in nature.

Remember, we can always make changes to our lives and improve our health and wellness. We suggest you do this by implementing various strategies. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

Here, at Pathways Recovery, we know our health revolves around our mental, physical, and even nutritional wellbeing. Ultimately, each individual has their own unique circumstances that will shape their health and nutrition. There may be financial constraints, time constraints, work or family obligations, and even geographic factors impacting someone’s mental health and access to food.  

That’s why our whole-body addiction treatment program includes nutrition, gym workouts, and nature hikes around Sacramento to help heal our clients’ hearts, bodies, and minds. We’re here to help you navigate these challenges. Call us today at  916-251-0352