Fitness for the Mind and Body: The Diet’s Impact on Mental Health

Dieting or good health concept. Young woman rejecting Junk food or unhealthy food such as donut or dessert and choosing healthy food such as fresh fruit or vegetable.

The brain is nourished through the things we eat and the activities we participate in throughout the day. High physical activity levels lead to higher brain function and activity, and the foods we eat cause similar effects to the brain. Healthy foods keep the brain fit and functioning while fatty and sugary foods leave the brain sluggish and not working as effectively as possible. This is because the foods we eat have a direct correlation to the part of the brain that is involved in learning, memory, and mental health – the hippocampus. Healthy diet choices cause more volume in the hippocampus than unhealthy diets, and that is a good thing. So what foods does the brain crave?

Vegetables and Fruits:
The recommended amount of fruits and veggies is anywhere from five to 13 servings each day, depending on age, gender, and other factors. Some fruits and vegetables that have a great impact on brain function include carrots, celery, broccoli, spinach, blueberries, and tomatoes.

A legume is defined by Webster as a “leguminous plant (a member of the pea family), especially one grown as a crop.” Legumes fall into the vegetable category in some cases like with field peas and butter beans, and some people use them as their protein source at mealtimes. If you want to give Meatless Monday a try, go for some lentils, chickpeas (hummus), or other beans.

As mentioned above, protein can come from sources other than meat, but many times the protein source of a meal comes in the form of poultry, beef, pork, or fish. Leaner options are fish, chicken, and turkey. The recommended amount is 46 grams per day for a sedentary woman and 56 grams per day for a sedentary man.

Whole Grains:
That’s right, bread is not totally off limits. There are just some restrictions. Limit your intake to six ounces each day of whole grains. That means whole grain bread, not white. Quinoa, brown rice, and whole grain noodles are other options for grain intake each day as well.

Healthy Fats:
The body, and especially the brain, needs some healthy fats for better function. Avocado, nuts, and olive oil are examples of healthy fats to include in your diet.

All of these are things that the body and brain need on a daily basis. Sweet treats and unhealthy snacks are things that we want, and, when consumed rarely and in moderation, eating unhealthy snacks is okay. Just try to limit the sugary and saturated fat-filled snacks to a minimum and keep the brain functioning at a maximum.