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How Can Diet Affect Mental Health?

Endless research has proven that what we eat significantly impacts our physical health in multiple ways. The same is true of mental health; diet plays a critical role in the status of our mental health. These two are inseparable and interdependent and can determine our overall health for years to come.

Why Mental Health and Diet Matter

MedlinePlus defines mental health as “our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.”

Furthermore, MedlinePlus makes the connection between mental health and nutrition clear, “Good nutrition will help you feel better physically but could also improve your mood and decrease anxiety and stress. Also, not having enough of certain nutrients may contribute to some mental illnesses. For example, there may be a link between low levels of vitamin B12 and depression.”

Regarding the concept of healthy eating, MedlinePlus explains, “A healthy eating plan should give your body the energy and nutrients that you need every day. Nutrients include proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. The plan should also take into account your preferences, cultural traditions, and budget.”

MedlinePlus also stresses that a healthy eating plan doesn’t mean you have to follow a strict diet. You can still eat the things you enjoy. It’s all about balance; eat the things you love, but in moderation.

Balancing Diet and Mental Health

Now that we understand the importance of mental health and eating healthily, what do we do about it? What should we be eating? The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DAG) recommends the following portions for the average American adult per day:

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) suggests that, based on a daily intake of 2,000 calories, adults should aim for less than 2,300mg of sodium per day. It is even more beneficial if sodium intake can stay around 1,500mg, as this adjustment can significantly lower blood pressure.

For your safety, it is imperative to always consult a doctor before altering your diet. Certain medications or conditions can be significantly affected by a change in diet, so be sure to consult your care team before changing anything. You should always follow your clinician’s nutritional guidelines, as they will be able to advise you on what will help keep your body as healthy as possible.

Benefits of a Healthy Diet

The DAG also explains that the following benefits could be the result of eating healthily over a lifetime:

Positive, healthy physical benefits can help set up our mental health for success. The healthier our bodies are, the healthier our brains are, and the healthier our mental state will be!

Healthy Limits Within Diet

Now that we know what is considered a healthy diet for the average American, we need to beware of unhealthy elements that become harmful, especially when used in excess. These include but are not limited to the following:

As previously stated, always be sure to follow your clinician’s advice regarding your dietary restrictions. Every person’s body responds differently to certain elements, especially if other diagnoses or conditions are in play. The limitation recommendations below are based on the average American diet.


If consumed in moderation and balanced with healthy foods and physical exercise, sugar may not have significant negative effects on a person’s overall diet. Naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in fruits and vegetables, are important and necessary additions to our diet.

However, when added sugars become a staple ingredient in almost everything we eat or drink, then it becomes a problem. NIH News in Health confirms, “Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks are the leading source of added sugars in the American diet. Juices naturally contain a lot of sugar. But sometimes, even more is added to make them taste sweeter.” Not only do high levels of added sugar contribute to obesity, but they might also increase the chance of cardiovascular disease.

Artificial Dyes

Dyes have been heavily discussed over the last few years, particularly when referring to their ability to influence hyperactivity in children. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that there is not enough evidence present to prove that artificial dyes and additives negatively impact health.

Contrarily, in Diet and Nutrition: The Artificial Food Dye Blues, Carol Potera’s research suggests that most artificial dyes used in the U.S. are probably carcinogenic and will most likely result in unhealthy behavioral and physical reactions. When in doubt, it’s usually best to choose whole foods that don’t require unnecessary additives or ingredients. Examples of this could include items such as organic produce or healthy nuts.

Substance Use

We know that alcohol and substances are bad for our brains, but what do they do to our bodies? In Drug Alcohol Depend, Kendall D. Jeynes and E. Leigh Gibson found, “Poor nutritional status in [alcohol use disorder] AUD and [drug use disorder] DUD severely impacts their physical and psychological health, which may impede their ability to resist substances of abuse and recover their health.” Not only can the use of substances deplete necessary nutrients for survival, but they can also impair the person’s ability to fully recover.

At Sage Recovery, we know how important a healthy diet is to your overall health, so we make sure to provide you with everything you need to heal healthily. We take nutrition very seriously and offer dietitian-planned and professional chef-prepared meals to aid your recovery. In addition, we also provide innovative treatment techniques such as yoga, equine therapy, art therapy, nature immersion, and much more. Our clinicians are also experts in traditional approaches such as CBT, DBT, and EMDR. We believe there are multiple pathways to healing, and we’re here to help you through it. Reach out to Sage Recovery at (512) 306-1394 today to take control of your recovery.