When someone is feeling down, what’s the first question you ask? For most people, it’s “Are you okay?” or “What happened?” But with a growing body of research on the connections between nutrition and mental health, another good question might be, “What have you eaten?”

This relationship between how we eat and how we feel is relatively new territory. As our understanding of the connection between good nutrition and good mental health grows, research provides more evidence that we can use our diets to support our mental well-being. We’ve long understood that what we eat impacts our physical health. And there’s now strong evidence showing that nutrition and mental health are also closely linked. In fact, there is a clear correlation between our diet and our mood.

A healthy diet has a positive effect on both your mental and physical health. Some of the most notable benefits are reduced inflammation, improved energy, and better sleep. Studies also show that a poor diet can worsen symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.

But how does a poor diet impact mental health?

As we mentioned, sugar and processed foods can cause inflammation. This inflammation in the brain, gut, and body can be a catalyst for anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Additionally, poor mental health can then lead to unhealthy food choices which perpetuates the vicious cycle.

Say, for instance, that you’re overwhelmed at work or have a stressful home life. You may struggle to find the time to prepare a healthy meal or may reach for fatty, processed comfort foods. Very few people go for the salad when they’re stressed. You may skip meals because of your commute, work, or caregiving responsibilities. Or substitute meals with caffeine or sugar to get you through the day. Both are likely to cause inflammation and fatigue, leaving you feeling less than your best. These substitutions can lead to leaky gut, which also can end up permeating the blood brain barrier causing “leaky brain.”

This can become a vicious cycle of poor nutrition and poor mental health. If you are struggling with mental health and poor nutrition and would like to get back on track, reach out to one of our health coaches today at info@madewellcenter.org.