What Foods Should I Eat to Improve Mental Health?

What Foods Should I Eat to Improve Mental Health?

Everybody knows that good nutrition is an important part of staying healthy daily. Did you know that this is particularly true for individuals recovering from addiction? Good nutrition not only replenishes the body with necessary nutrients but also improves mental health. Eating right is one essential building block for those recovering from a dual diagnosis.

Why People With a Dual Diagnosis Ignore Nutrition

Dual diagnosis is when addiction and a mental illness co-occur in an individual. The most common mental health conditions include anxiety and depression. People with these conditions may ignore proper nutritional intake, opting for easy, unhealthy foods.

To further complicate matters, repeated use of substances may change a person’s appetite. The preoccupation with seeking, securing, and using substances often leads to neglect of a healthy diet. Certain substances can change an individual’s palate or make them crave less healthy options.

Without a proper daily nutritional intake, people with a dual diagnosis can experience worsening mental health problems that lead to prolonged fatigue, impaired decision-making, and lack of concentration. Anxiety and agitation become their baseline. Over time, the lack of a healthy diet (or the abundance of unhealthy foods) can accumulate to harm both the body and mind.

Mental Health Effects of Dependence on Processed Foods

Many people with dual diagnosis tend to rely on processed foods. These are high in flour, sugar, and salt. Eating them regularly conditions the brain to crave them instead of nutrient-rich foods. A lifestyle of overconsuming processed foods is hard to reverse once the habit becomes ingrained — almost like an addiction itself.

Dependence on processed foods works similarly to substance addiction. It stimulates the dopamine centers in the brain, which is associated with pleasure and reward. When cravings arise, there is a strong urge to eat more processed foods, reinforcing the cravings and reward cycle. Over time, brain structures change, making low-nutritional food an addiction.

Do Bad Foods Give People Bad Moods?

Many people with a dual diagnosis experience fluctuations in their mood. Bad foods often have a hand in this effect. Research shows that processed foods may lead to inflammation throughout the body, contributing to mood disorders. The brain also suffers a negative impact from the lack of nutrients in processed foods which can impair mood-regulating functions.

Substance addiction, mental health conditions, and addiction to processed foods form a powerful and vicious cycle that is hard to break. When a person begins dual diagnosis treatment for addiction and poor mental health, their addiction to bad food also needs medical intervention.

Good Food Fuels Healing From Mental Health Conditions

Research shows that the food one eats plays an important role in shaping one’s mood. In addition to the pleasure from the brain’s reward center, there is also a strong connection between the intestines and the brain. This is referred to as the gut-brain connection. Physiologically speaking, the gut and the brain are linked through the vagus nerve, allowing both to send messages to each other.

The gut can influence emotional processes in the brain, and the brain can change the types of bacteria living in the gut. For example, gut bacteria can produce neurochemicals for the brain to use in mental processes, including mood regulation. This is partly why anxiety and stress may suppress the healthy functioning of beneficial gut bacteria.

Foods That Are Good for the Mental Health

The brain relies on good nutrition to build new proteins and cells. A healthy combination of carbohydrates, proteins, and minerals is what the brain needs. Nutritionists suggest eating a diversified group of unprocessed foods to improve mental health.

Healthy carbohydrates include whole grains such as brown rice and starchy vegetables. Individuals can diversify their diets by adding foods rich in complex carbohydrates like quinoa, millet, and sweet potatoes to satisfy hunger. Simple carbohydrates are often higher in sugar, and individuals should limit these. Eating more lean proteins, including chicken, fish, meat, and eggs, can replenish the body with more energy.

Another food category for brain health includes food items with fatty acids, which are important for the functioning of the brain and the nervous system. Salmon, eggs, seeds, and nuts belong to the fatty acids group. Consuming various healthy fats, including olive oil and avocado, can improve brain health and healing.

Eating for Better Brain Health

The “how” matters as much as the “what” when it comes to eating to improve mental health. Many recovery-supportive nutritional therapists encourage mindful eating as a core self-care practice. This is a meditative way of eating. Individuals pay close attention to how they feel when consuming food. Another way to reflect on what food does to the mood is by keeping a food journal during recovery.

Mindful shopping is related to mindful eating. Individuals should become more aware of what they put into their grocery carts. It is helpful to develop a healthy shopping list and stick to it. Individuals should avoid shopping when they feel hungry. That is usually when some unhealthy food items, such as potato chips and sugary drinks, enter the shopping cart.

The goal of addiction recovery is not just to quit drugs or alcohol but to grow into a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Sobriety is only the starting point for this goal. Prioritizing sobriety requires making sustainable changes. Laguna Shores Recovery offers traditional therapies, holistic practices, and a thriving alumni program to help you balance all aspects of your life, not just challenge your use of drugs or alcohol. We are here to help and support you. At Laguna Shores, we customize treatment plans for you, including self-care and time management skills for healthy life balance in addition to detox, medication, 12-Step groups, and relationship skills coaching. Schedule an appointment with us today by calling (866) 774-1532.