By Kysha Rooks
NC cooperative extension
When most people hear about mental health, they think of complexities involving physical violence, traumatic encounters, or even complicated genetic issues. However, nutrition also significantly influences mental health, as the brain, which controls all the functions of the body, needs a constant supply of energy from the foods that we consume on a daily basis. A balanced, quality diet positively affects mental health, while a poor diet has negative effects.
Healthy eating positively affects the way you feel. Specifically, nutritious foods influence the functionality of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Simply put, neurotransmitters are chemicals that facilitate the transfer of an impulse between nerves and they regulate bodily functions such as appetite, mood, sleep, and pain. Nutritious meals rich in complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, water and essential fats facilitate the effective activity of neurotransmitters. For example, micronutrients, mainly minerals and vitamins, act as a catalyst to convert amino acids into neurotransmitters. This means that people with a good macronutrient intake will have good sleep, better moods, and limited instances of memory loss. Therefore, a balanced diet will result in good mental health.
On the contrary, a poor quality diet negatively affects mental health. Foods that contain saturated fat and processed carbohydrates inhibit the appropriate activity of neurotransmitters. For example, the consumption of butter and palm oil prevents the conversion of the food consumed into the nutrients needed to provide energy to the brain.
As we move into a New Year, we need to focus on eating a healthy and balanced diet as it directly affects our mental health.
Kysha Rooks is an educator with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) with Rowan County Extension.