There are a number of ways that diet can have a beneficial impact on overall health. And in recent years, there has been an emerging area of medicine that focuses on how dietary shifts may specifically benefit mental health. Meet: nutritional psychiatry.
As the area has grown in practice and interest, so has a wide group of experts who focus to the topic. So when nutritional psychiatrist Georgia Ede, M.D., appeared on the mindbodygreen podcast, we were sure to ask about her perspective on the best diet for mental health and how to use the basic premises of nutritional psychology to support memory, limit migraines, and improve mood.
In response, she outlined three basic pillars of nutritional psychiatry, and how getting the right nutrients to the brain can have a major impact.
1. Make sure the brain has what it needs to run properly.
“You need to make sure that the brain has all the building blocks and chemicals that it needs to run properly,” she says, and ensure “your diet contains the foods that delivers those nutrients to the brain without a lot of difficulty.”
Even though certain nutrients are in worked into your diet via food, doesn’t mean that they’re reaching the systems that need them (including your brain), says Ede.That’s because it goes beyond just eating foods that are directly good for your brain. Your diet, she explains “has to contain the nutrients, and those nutrients have to be available.” This is also known as bioavailability, or the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from a food.
Some foods are naturally bioavailable, and there are ways to strategically optimize your meals to better absorb nutrients. One way to do so is consuming foods that have nutrient synergy relationships: For example, pairing foods rich in fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, K) along with fats (avocado, olive oil).
2. Replace potentially damaging foods with nutritious ones.
The second pillar is to take the things out of your diet that could potentially harm your brain, she says. “Things like fruit juice, and sugar, and flour, and refined cereal products, and vegetable oils.”
It goes beyond just removing the things that can be damaging, though, you also need to rebuild your diet with whole foods. According to Ede, there are a few basic steps to the best diet for mental health: eliminating processed foods, eating more animal proteins, and even tuning into keto or intermittent fasting protocols.
Beyond those guidelines, it also comes down to picking foods that support brain health, in all its facets. But really, pretty much any whole foods diet will take care of that, she says.
3. Work to optimize your metabolism.
“If you have damaged carbohydrate metabolism, insulin resistance, or pre-diabetes,” says Ede, “then your brain is not able to access the energy that it needs to run itself properly.” And these are more common than you may realize—in fact, more than 50% of Americans now have insulin resistance, she points out.
That said, supporting your metabolism is possible if you focus on the right foods. And finding a diet that can support your mental health and aid in balancing blood sugar may be a great option if you have any of the above issues.
The foods we eat have a major influence on our health and wellness, and since our brains are an integral part of our overall health, optimizing our diet to support our mental health seems like a no brainer—pun intended.