As someone who has struggled with my mental health for years and years, you would think that I would have done research on this before, but I am just now digging in. I’m blown away.
Anytime someone has said that nutrition affects mental health, I have argued. I have said that we are born with these chemical imbalances. I do think that we are born with a higher chance of struggling (due to genetics, etc), but to dismiss the idea that nutrition/lack of nutrition can heal/prevent or cause mental illness is actually a thing! I had no idea till the past few days.
Over the years, I have been back-and-forth with a focus on nutrition. At one time, I was all into “real foods,” but then I started some programs that basically said that was bull. I also was more into it because it was trendy at the time.
Since I started working in 2020, I was either 100% focused on reduced calories for weight loss, or eating all-the-things (including a LOT of processed foods).
Nutrition for mental health was NEVER a motivation for eating “healthy,” and I was in survival mode so much of the time. This was partly because of my jobs being toxic and very difficult and partly because obviously I wasn’t feeding my brain well.
I had just been taught that “all food and drinks are chemicals” so it doesn’t really matter that much. Yes, they did focus on having a balanced plate, but then they pushed protein drinks, powders, and bars as part of a nutritious lifestyle. And they said that processed foods are fine.
When I gave up dieting and tracking my food (recently, but I’ve done this before), I went the whole opposite direction. I have been drinking lots of diet soda, eating fast food, Cheetos, Oreos, so much ice-cream (which is hard on my digestive system), eating VERY little fruits and veggies; eating whatever I want. I have also not been moving my body intentionally.
It has been nice to not be focusing on weight loss for a change, but my nutrition has gone out the window.
And I wonder why my physical anxiety and so many ADHD symptoms just aren’t going away despite the fact that I am “living my best life” as far as lifestyle goes (homeschooling, homesteading, not working anymore, being involved at camp, etc), and I have tried SO many medications. In fact, I also think that some of my symptoms are from side effects from medications that are unnecessary. I don’t know if I will ever get completely off of meds, but I would like to only be on necessary medications.
I’m over here eating homemade fermented (sourdough) bread, eggs from my parents, sometimes drinking raw milk, but also drinking a ton of diet soda, eating a lot of processed foods, etc. Haha. It doesn’t add up.
What does the research say?
Simply put, traditional diets (whole, “real” foods) give the brain what it needs to be healthy and function properly while processed foods starve the brain of what it needs because it has zero nutrients.
Our brains need Omega 3 fatty acids, B vitamins, amino acids, fiber, vitamin D, healthy fats, animal products, and our “gut health” actually IS important (I have been denying that for so long because so many multi-level-marketing companies use it to sell stuff). Fermented foods are a huge benefit to us and our mental health.
Instead of writing out things that I have found in articles, I will link them here for you to check out on your own. I have a variety of resources to choose from. They have evidence-based information. These are just a few of the resources out there!
Food, Mood, and Brain Health: Implications for the Modern Clinician
Food for Thought: Nutrition as a treatment for mental health conditions
The Link Between Highly Processed Foods and Brain Health
I don’t agree with everything on this next link, but I have talked with so many people who have healed/managed their mental health with this type of diet, so I’m taking bits and pieces: 11 Dietary Wise Traditions Principles. I will say that most of this lines up with what is on Pubmed (the first link I shared). Whole foods are the most important thing. Eating food that isn’t highly processed.
Going All In
I’m not saying I will never eat processed food; I’m just trying to limit it significantly. Life is life, and it is impossible to avoid it entirely. Living at camp makes that hard especially since we get free food here, and it’s not the healthiest. I try to only eat meals that I can just eat fruits, veggies, meats, etc.
I’m going to focus on making the changes for myself over the summer then work on changing the kids’ diet a little at a time. I am going to start now on not buying a bunch of processed food, though. It’s going to be very difficult to change the kids’ diets since they are teenagers. We will see how that goes. Karis will be going into college in a little over a year, so I will definitely have very little say then. And she’s my mac-n-cheese, chicken nugget girl. She could live off of those. Maybe I can spend this next year teaching her how to cook just to not be able to when she starts college haha.
- I have an appointment with an Applied Clinical Nutritionist that works with her husband (my chiropractor). She is also a chiropractor. I’m looking forward to doing some testing to see if I have nutrient deficiencies. She charges VERY little- $75 for the first visit and $35 after that. The person that I made the appointment with said, “yes, she needs to charge more.” Of course, her husband my chiropractor, doesn’t charge much either! They are Christians, and I think they consider this a ministry.
- I will get back to buying raw milk as it has so many benefits. It’s a “live” product, it has beneficial bacteria which is good for our digestion, has lots of vitamins and minerals, and is considered “nature’s perfect food.” There is a LOT of controversy over this, but the more research I have done, the more I have found that there are so many more food-borne illnesses present in other things, even veggies! As long as you buy the milk from a trusted source, it is perfectly safe. Pasteurization was created because conditions in feed-lots were/are so bad! When we drive through west Texas, we pass several dairy farms, and I can smell them from so far away. It’s terrible. Also, pasteurization kills all of the “good stuff.”
- I will continue growing in fermentation practices. I am going to try to make more sourdough including playing around with utilizing my fresh-ground wheat berries. I will start making sauerkraut, fermented pickles, and other veggies. I will continue working on my kombucha (I didn’t make it for quite a while and it’s not doing too great at the moment).
- I will start taking fermented cod liver oil again.
- I’m going to try to buy grass-fed beef, pastured pork and chicken, etc. locally again. It’s so much more expensive, but I believe that since I won’t be buying all of the processed foods, it will be doable. We will see how this goes. I am able to find these products in stores, but I would prefer to buy it locally when possible. I have a few sources including some friends who have ranches, and the Farmer’s Market!
- I plan to add more fatty fish to my diet.
- Make most things homemade: breads, Greek yogurt, kombucha, meals, etc.
- I have a garden with all my faves, but the hail and constant rain has actually stunted it. We will see how it goes! I will try to buy from the Farmer’s Market when possible. It’s just SO hard to shop it because it’s on Saturday mornings. I am never in town on Saturdays, really. My dad also has a huge garden, so I have that resource as well!
- We get eggs from my dad currently, and some of my chickens will start laying in a few months!
- No sodas! I gave them up a few days ago, and I haven’t looked back. The main reason for this is that I have started noticing how quickly they negatively affect me. I have struggled with sleep a lot. I gave them up, and I’m already falling asleep much easier (without medication). They also make me so anxious. Lowering my caffeine intake in general is going to help with that. It’s going to be a slow process as caffeine is a stimulant and will take a while to get out of my system. I think this explains why stimulant ADHD medications make me so anxious.
- I try to buy organic when I can, but it’s so much more expensive. We are on a limited budget.
I know this may not make sense, but I am actually pretty excited to see what happens with my mental health, and the mental health of my kids as we start to implement these things. I feel like I have tried almost everything that conventional medicine offers, and I still struggle a lot. So, it’s time to try something new.
I love this blog post!
Whole food are so important to mental heath! I switch over to Whole Foods, and wow! I feel so much better! I don’t eat processed foods not any. I do make a lot of soups for myself (my family only likes soup in the fall and winter.) I love soups any time.
I’m off my depression med, and no sleep med. ( since Dec 2022)
2023 has been my absolute best year so far in a very long time!
Praying for you that the changes you are making will be the answer for your mental health!