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Taylor Burton May 15, 2024 8:52:00 AM 4 min read

You Are What You Eat: Mental Health and Nutrition

Yes, we've heard the popular phrase "You are what you eat" time and time again. We all know how important a healthy diet is, but not just for our bodies--our minds also hinge on what we put into our mouths. America isn't just struggling with obesity. There is a major mental health crisis happening in our country. And while many factors are at play, one looms above others: our food.

Food is fuel for our brains. We need plenty of vitamins and nutrients to keep our minds functioning at top capacity--especially when we have clients depending on us. As tempting as it might be to heat up that frozen microwave dinner or pop open a bag of chips to save a little time in your busy schedule, it will only hurt you in the long run. Do your firm and your clients a favor by choosing "premium fuel" because the science is there: our mental health and nutrition go tightly hand-in-hand.

Remember: Our cutting-edge CLE is always here to keep you on top of your game, too. Next Tuesday, join us for "Promoting Civility in Contentious Public Meetings." This course will offer best practices to lower the temperature in hotly contentious public meetings and bring back order. These strategies for maintaining decorum will help you and those around you keep a cool head when it matters most.


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The science behind it. Have you ever heard the joke that someone thinks with their stomach? Considering what we eat has a direct line to our mood, which can alter our actions, that joke might ring true for all of us. Each of us has a gut microbiome working to break down our food and process nutrients, while simultaneously producing chemicals such as serotonin, our feel-good hormone. Our gut chemistry is directly linked with our brain chemistry. Not only can it affect your mood in the moment, but it can also have great influence over your long-term mental health. Healthy foods teeming with vitamins can help reduce the effects of depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.

We've written about brain-friendly foods and their benefits in the past. The right vitamins and nutrients can help you think clearer, improve your concentration, boost your energy levels, and much more. The Mediterranean Diet, rich in vegetables and whole grains, is constantly lauded as one of the healthiest diets in the world. Read more about its benefits here.

But what about the not-so-healthy food choices that run rampant in America?


Pizza, family, outdoor


The dangers of ultra-processed food. America has a serious problem with ultra-processed food. If you're wondering what qualifies as ultra-processed, look no further than the colorful packages lining the aisles of grocery stores. Fast food, lunch meat, chips, cookies, soda, breakfast cereal, and (as much as it pains my sweet tooth to admit) candy are just naming a few of the many unhealthy options we're given. Even a loaf of bread might surprise you with the amount of sugar it can contain.

Not only is ultra-processed food incredibly cheap and convenient, it's also highly addictive. The high amounts of sugar and salt in these snacks stimulate a dopamine release, speaking to the pleasure center in our brains and causing us to crave them. These foods are often not very filling, and you'll soon be back for more. This creates a vicious cycle that is hard to break and can cause debilitating health problems.

Remember how, when you were growing up, you were told to eat plenty of carbs (breads, pasta, cereal, etc.) for energy? Carbs are sugar hiding in plain sight. Refined carbs have been stripped of their nutrients and cause spikes in blood sugar, clearing the path to develop Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Common food additives such preservatives and sweeteners can increase your risk of cancer, putting well-known brands under fire in recent news. And finally, they can cause depression by creating inflammation in the brain and body, leading to mood disorders and high levels of stress.

There is nothing to be gained from these foods except for a very brief hit of dopamine. Considering the risks to your mental and physical health, it certainly is not worth it.


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The benefits of fasting. You are what you...don't eat? One popular trend that has been catching on more and more in recent years is the act of fasting--going without food for a set period of time. We fast each night as we sleep, and breakfast is literally named for "breaking" our "fast." Most people fast around 12 hours or even 16 hours, though you should consult with a healthcare professional to find out if it's right for you.

There is still much research to be had, but one of the main purposes of fasting is to improve cognitive function. It gives your body a chance to detoxify, redistribute nutrients, and even fight against neurological diseases. If you're interested in improving your mental health and you'd like to learn more, check out this article on WebMD.  


Family smiling around a healthy meal in kitchen


The science around healthy living is forever evolving and improving. The link between our mental health and nutrition is a strong one and being studied more with each passing year. Many like to stand up and claim they've found the secret to longevity while others try to offer solutions in the form of pills or fad diets. However, one thing is certain: You are what you eat.