The saying may be “you are what you eat,” but it might be even more accurate to say “you feel how you eat.” The link between diet and mood is well documented, but there’s always more to learn—and a new study published in the Journal of Personalized Medicine found a few specific dietary habits that can have a notable impact on mental well-being.
Four food behaviors that might negatively affect mental well-being.
The study concluded that, when compared to older men, older women were more likely to have a stronger association between mental health and diet—with specifically four factors to watch out for: “Fast food, skipping breakfast, caffeine, and high-glycemic food are all associated with mental distress in mature women,” explains study author Lina Begdache, Ph.D., an assistant professor of health and wellness studies.
The debate over whether or not to eat breakfast may rage on, but the other three habits Begdache calls out aren’t entirely surprising. Anxiety is a common side effect of consuming too much caffeine, high-glycemic foods are likely to cause blood sugar spikes (and crashes) that could affect mood, and fast food isn’t exactly known as great fuel for the body—so why would it be great for the mind?
While plenty of previous research has looked into the link between diet and mental health, with this study, Begdache hoped to observe whether customizing diet and lifestyle factors could help to improve mental well-being. “Interestingly, we found that for unhealthy dietary patterns, the level of mental distress was higher in women than in men,” she shares—which means women, in particular, may want to think twice about how these habits show up in their routines.
Behaviors that can support healthy mental well-being.
But it’s not all doom and gloom—the researchers also observed the impact of interventions to counteract the bad effects. “We found a general relationship between eating healthy, following healthy dietary practices, exercise and mental well-being,” Begdache explains. “The extra information we learned from this study is that exercise significantly reduced the negative association,” specifically for the negative impact of fast food and high glycemic foods. Specific foods, such as fruits and dark green leafy vegetables, also had a positive association with mental well-being.
Based on their research, the report concludes that daily interventions like better diet and more regular movement can be the best first line of defense for mental well-being. The data from the study, and others like it, may be used to help health care professionals customize, in more detail, their recommendations for patients.