Take a moment and think about the last time you ate something really sinful. Provided you aren’t a vegetarian or vegan, perhaps it was fried chicken or a bacon cheeseburger. In the instance you don’t eat meat, maybe it was a massive chocolate bar. Regardless of your preferred food, you get the point.

Then try and remember how you felt – mentally – an hour afterward and for the rest of the day. I’m willing to bet you likely weren’t at your best. The terms ‘sluggish,’ ‘moody,’ and ‘tired’ come to mind.

There's science behind this mental reaction to less-than-healthy food, and it centers around something called the gut-brain connection. Both mind and stomach are connected via the vagus nerve, communicating with one another via that mechanism.

Moreover, the bacteria in your gut generate neurochemicals that help the brain regulate mental processes (e.g., mood). Experts cite that 95% of serotonin – which stabilizes your mood – being produced by gut bacteria.

Based on the above theory, stress suppresses beneficial gut bacteria. And without a nutritious diet to maintain sound gut health, you leave yourself open to depression.

Let’s examine what kinds of food you should eat to bolster your mental health:

Incorporate Complex Carbohydrates into Your Diet

When people hear carbohydrates, their minds immediately veer off track to sugar, bread, and candy. These are all simple carbs that don’t keep you satisfied and are detrimental to your mental health.

Unfortunately, this has led to a misconception about carbohydrates that plainly isn’t true. Humans benefit tremendously from carbs—as long as they’re of the complex variety. Meaning, adding things like brown rice, quinoa, millet, beets, sweet potatoes, and other starchy vegetables will be a boon for your mental health.

Keep Your Proteins Lean

There's nothing wrong with the odd piece of bacon now and again. However, some people hear that protein is healthy and start traveling in the wrong dietary directions. Eating an abundance of salty, fatty meats isn't good for your mental or physical health.

Alternatively, you’ll get the positive mental health outcomes you seek from food rich in lean proteins.  

Such food helps you think and react quickly. Good lean protein sources include the following:

  • Chicken
  • Lean beef
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Soybeans
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Fatty Acids Are Crucial to Your Mental Health

It’s ingrained in our minds to immediately think of expanded waistlines and additional pounds on the scale when the word ‘fat’ is spoken.

However, fatty acids are absolutely integral to a well-balanced, mental health-forward diet. Foods such as fish, meat, eggs, nuts, and flaxseeds are rich in fatty acids, contributing to both your brain and nervous system's proper function.

Eating Nutritiously Goes Far Beyond “Looking Good.”

Naturally, one of the perks of nutritious eating is it tends to reflect how you look. But it goes far beyond aesthetics—it positively alters the way your brain functions.

When you make these nutrition decisions, your waistline will always be in the back of your mind. But think more about what it will do for your personal well-being and your overall quality of life. From there, you’ll have the foundations for thriving mental health.