Mediterranean Diet and Dash Diet – Two of the Best Mental Health Diets
Ironically, the majority of people tend to overlook the significance of mental health diets. More so when mental illness is one of the most common conditions affecting people in the US in 2022. According to the CDC, over 50% of the population will be diagnosed with a mental illness in their lifetime. That’s half of all Americans!
Depression, anxiety, personality disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)are just a few of our society’s widely diagnosed mental illnesses.
Therapy and prescription drugs are typically considered the gold standard for treating mood disorders, and for a good reason. These approaches have thorough research and long-standing evidence to support their use.
But is there anything else on the cards to improve mental health? Is there a link between nutrition and mental health?
Experts say yes: what you eat can greatly impact your brain and, therefore, your overall mood.
That’s why RDX Sports dedicate this blog to introducing you to two of the best mental health diets, i.e., the Dash Diet and the Mediterranean Diet.
Let’s look at how this blog signifies the correlation between nutrition and mental health, offering you two complete diet plans to improve your mental health and well-being.
Table of Contents
- What is the Best Mental Health Diet?
- 5 Best Foods for Mental Health
- 3 Types of Foods to Avoid for Better Mental Health
- What is Mediterranean Diet?
- Types of Food in the Mediterranean Diet
- Mediterranean Diet Menu
- What is DASH Diet?
- Types of Food in the DASH Diet
- Dash Diet Menu
- Summarizing Mental Health Diets
What Is the Best Mental Health Diet?
To understand how your nutrition affects your mental health, it’s vital to comprehend the gut-brain connection.
According to Uma Naidoo, MD, a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist and author of “This is Your Brain on Food,” your gut and your brain are deeply connected early in your development with a complex system of neurotransmitters (the body’s chemical messengers) between the two.
“Foods that help promote neurotransmitter production reduce inflammation, support the [gut] microbiome, and keep the gut lining intact and strong, supporting the brain,” says Eva Selhub, MD, author of “Your Health Destiny.” “Foods that are low in nutrients and trigger inflammation have the opposite effect.”
In other words, dietary changes that prevent inflammation are ideal for gut and brain health. “Traditional diets that support the microbiome and are anti-inflammatory have been shown to improve mental health,” says Dr. Selhub.
“These diets are rich in a variety of plant-based foods, many of which are fermented and therefore probiotics or prebiotics [because they feed the microbiome].”
How is that in practice? The following well-researched diet plans are designed to decrease inflammation:
- Mediterranean Diet
- DASH Diet
These mental health diets focus on eating lean meats, fresh produce, healthy fats (like olive oil), vegetables, and energy-boosting whole grains. Additionally, they discourage the consumption of foods that worsen anxiety and depression, like red meat, artificial sweeteners, refined foods, carbohydrates, alcohol, and processed oils.
Even the paleo diet, which focuses on lean meats, fruits, and vegetables, can benefit some.
However, any restrictive diet (the type of diet limiting food consumption to a specific number of calories or certain foods or food groups) can be difficult to follow and especially challenging for people who struggle with mental health.
If you’re having a hard time keeping track of what’s good and what’s worse, most experts encourage you to keep it simple and focus on eating well. “Foods that are unhealthy for your waistline are also harmful to your mental health,” says Naidoo.
5 Best Foods for Mental Health
Have you ever wondered what foods are good for mental health? Well, to optimize your mental health, add plant-based foods and healthy foods that naturally contain probiotics or anti-inflammatory properties to your diet.
Here are five examples of the best foods to improve mental health.
1. Fermented Foods
Kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles may not be staples in your diet, but if you’re living with a mental health condition, it’s time to change that.
“Fermented foods can help your mental health because they can help improve your gut microbiome,” says registered dietitian and nutritionist Amanda Sauceda.
“There is emerging evidence that fermented foods can help with depression and anxiety because of their effects on the gut microbiome.”
However, the research is still new and under development. A 2019 study identified that men reported fewer symptoms of depression after consuming probiotics from fermented foods, but no change was seen in female participants.
Be aware of the sodium content of fermented foods if you have high blood pressure or are prone to swollen ankles.
2. Foods with Dark Green Leaves
Vegetables are considered some of the best foods for your physical health and can also do wonders for your mental health. They feed your gut microbiome and produce short-chain fatty acids, which may affect how your gut and brain communicate.
One type of vegetable in particular, though, is a mental health hero: dark leafy greens. “They are rich in folate, and low folate levels are associated with bad moods,” says Dr. Naidoo. Folate is so crucial for mental health that supplementation based on folate is sometimes recommended in patients with major depressive disorder.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
This fatty acid found in fish, nuts, seeds, and some types of oils is one of the good fats. But your body cannot produce it, making it a necessary part of any healthy diet.
Sauceda says omega-3s can help with mood, depression, and anxiety, citing a 2020 review emphasizing the importance of marine omega-3s (i.e., fatty acids from oily fish) for brain function.
Sure, your breath might get a little stinky if you increase your intake of garlic, leeks, and onions, but your brain will thank you! Dr. Naidoo says that foods in the allium family are rich in prebiotics, providing fiber and nutrition to the gut microbiome.
According to a 2020 study, allium flavonoids have anti-inflammatory effects that can help prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some neurological conditions.
Dr. Naidoo also says that many types of spices can be helpful for mood and anxiety, especially turmeric.
The active compound in turmeric, curcumin, has anti-inflammatory effects that can even help the brain and lessen the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
If you are considering introducing more turmeric into your diet, Dr. Naidoo recommends mixing it with a pinch of black pepper – this makes curcumin more bioavailable or able to be absorbed and used by your body.
3 Types of Foods to Avoid for Better Mental Health
On the other hand, there are food choices that increase inflammation and do not promote mental health. You better steer away from them. These include:
1. Processed Foods
While fast food, baked goods, and candy taste good, they are not suitable for mental health. Don’t cut out those tasty treats entirely. Instead, cut back on high-fat, processed, and fast food.
Since these processed foods increase inflammation, they can also worsen your mental health. According to a 2015 Missouri Medicine study, people who eat an inflammatory diet for several years have a higher risk of depression.
2. Processed Vegetable Oils
Some connections have been found between the consumption of processed oils such as soy, canola, and vegetable oils and cognitive decline, as a 2018 study suggests.
Dr. Naidoo says it extends to mood and mental health conditions as well.
Additionally, she says that consuming processed vegetable oils containing omega-6 (aka inflammatory fatty acid) can disrupt the proportion of omega-3s in your body, limiting the beneficial properties of these good, healthy fats.
Sugary foods and artificial sweeteners have been linked to an increased risk of mental health disorders, thanks to the inflammation they create in the body.
But as if that weren’t enough, high sugar consumption is also associated with increased addictive behaviors and anxiety.
Talk to a specialist if your mental health has recently declined and affected your quality of life. Sleep disturbances, frequent negative thoughts, personality changes, and loss of appetite are some common signs that it’s time to talk to a doctor about your mental health.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
Can you imagine a region where people have a high life expectancy and low incidence of chronic diseases? Because it exists. It is the region bathed by the Mediterranean Sea, which encompasses southern Spain, southern France, Italy, and Greece.
Realizing that these places had so many healthy people, scientists began to study what was different there and concluded that the Mediterranean diet played a crucial role in all this.
Discovered in the 1950s, this diet has become popular over time. Its leading promoter was the American doctor Ancel Keys, who conducted several regional studies.
Since then, the subject has become one of the best-sellers (authored by Keys himself). It gave rise to the Fundación Dieta Mediterránea, a Catalan organization that promotes it through research and congresses.
And since 2010, UNESCO has recognized the Mediterranean diet as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
Types of Food in the Mediterranean Diet
It is recommended to have ten servings a day of this food group. They bring more fiber and vitamins to our bodies, which can prevent coronary heart disease.
One of the central precepts of the Mediterranean diet is natural food. The main foods that make up the Mediterranean diet include:
Examples: Given below is a list of examples.
Vegetables: Broccoli, cabbage, spinach, onions, cauliflower, carrots, brussels sprouts, cucumbers, etc.
Fruits: Apple, banana, orange, pear, strawberry, grape, fig, melon, and peach, among others.
Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and others. They are high in calories, offer good fats, and support cardiovascular health.
Whole Grains: Pasta is a very common food in the Mediterranean diet, but as long as it is whole. Whole grains should replace refined carbohydrates, that is, white flour.
Healthy Fats: Extra virgin olive oil, avocado, and avocado oil. Olive oil is an excellent source of oleic monounsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols. It is also recommended to replace the butter or margarine you spread on the bread with olive oil.
Meats: This includes poultry (turkey, chicken, and duck), fish, and seafood, which should be eaten at least twice a week.
Low-fat Cheese, Milk, and Yogurts: White cheeses, such as goat’s and sheep’s cheese, are typical in the Mediterranean region and, therefore, the Mediterranean diet. Yogurts are the most natural (Greek type), with no added sugars or flavors.
Herbs and Seasonings: Garlic, basil, mint, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, pepper, and cinnamon can be used to season food, thus using less salt.
Wine: Due to its antioxidant potential, red wine is allowed in moderation to accompany meals, but it is not mandatory. The safe dose is one cup daily for women and two for men. For type 2 diabetics, the safe amount is 2 to 4 cups per week.
Coffee and Tea: Both are allowed but must be naturally sweetened. Avoid refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. And, of course, people should drink plenty of water.
Mediterranean Diet Menu
Below is an example of a one-day menu for the Mediterranean diet.
Breakfast: Mediterranean sandwich, fresh herbal tea, a fruit
Morning Snack: A portion of fruit or a handful of nuts
Lunch: Salad with different types of green leaves and sunflower seeds.
Baked fish with herbs and spices (thyme, nutmeg, rosemary, and oregano) and seasoned with olive oil. Brown rice cooked with lentils, mushrooms, oregano, and carrots. A serving of acidic fruit such as plum, pineapple, orange, tangerine, or kiwi
Afternoon Snack: Natural skimmed yogurt with berries, a pinch of oat bran, and a drizzle of honey accompanied by mineral water
Dinner: Deep dish of vegetable soup, sardines, or tuna with chopped eggplant sautéed with olive oil, black olives, tomatoes, red peppers, onions, and garlic. A slice of wholemeal bread to accompany
Post Dinner Snack: Basil tea with rosemary and apple.
*This is just a menu suggestion to exemplify this type of diet. To follow this or any diet, consult a healthcare professional.
What is DASH Diet?
The acronym comes from English and stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” This dietary pattern was developed by the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in the late 1990s.
The American association studied people who adopted the Dash diet with groups who followed the traditional American diet. The results indicated that the Dash diet helps to control and lower blood pressure and reduce bad cholesterol, LDL.
No wonder Dash’s primary focus is eating less sodium, an element that corresponds to 40% of salt. It recommends ingesting less than 2300 milligrams of sodium daily, equivalent to 5 grams of salt or a teaspoon.
In addition to salt, the Dash program proposes lifestyle changes focused on healthy nutrition. That is, you add more fruits, vegetables, whole carbs, grains, milk, and cheeses — especially skim and low-fat — vegetable oils, nuts, and lean meats to the menu.
With them, your body will gain more nutrients like magnesium, potassium, fiber, and protein, which are associated with lowering blood pressure.
On the other hand, soft drinks, red meats, alcoholic beverages, processed products, sweets, industrialized juices, and foods rich in fructose, sodium, and saturated fat are out of the picture or are restricted.
Types of Food in the DASH Diet
The Dash Diet has some daily or weekly food serving indications, which include:
Whole Grains: 6 to 8 servings per day.
Lean Meats, Poultry, and Fish: 1.5 to 2.5 servings per day.
Fruits: 4 to 5 servings per day.
Vegetables: 4 to 5 servings per day.
Low-fat Dairy: 2 to 3 servings per day.
Nuts, Seeds, and Pulses: 4 to 5 servings per week.
Good Fats: 2 to 3 servings a day.
Tips to Choose Foods in DASH Diet
When choosing your food for the DASH diet, pay attention to these tips:
- Choose foods low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat. For example, lean meat, poultry, and fish, and consume them in small amounts.
- Opt for whole foods such as bread, cereals, and whole wheat pasta.
- Use light margarine and unsaturated vegetable oils (such as olive oil, soy, corn, and canola).
- Avoid adding excessive salt to food.
- Avoid sausages, instant noodles, and preserved and canned goods.
- Avoid industrialized tomato sauces, soy sauce, and ready-made broths. Avoid stuffed cookies, corn chips, and industrialized products.
- Decrease or avoid consuming sweets and sugary drinks, such as boxed juices and soft drinks.
- Decrease consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Dash Diet Menu
Below is an example of a one-day menu for the Dash diet.
Breakfast: 1 or 2 slices of wholemeal bread with a single slice of white cheese, 1 slice of papaya, and 1 cup of skimmed milk
Morning Snack: 1 orange
Lunch: Arugula, beetroot, carrot, and corn salad seasoned with olive oil, brown rice, and 1 roasted or grilled chicken filet
Afternoon Snack: Low-fat yogurt with granola and a banana
Dinner: 2 slices of wholemeal bread stuffed with lettuce, tomato, and tuna pate
Dessert: 2 plums
Post Dinner Snack: 1 cup of skimmed milk
*This is just a menu suggestion to exemplify this type of diet. To follow this or any diet, consult a healthcare professional.
Summarizing Mental Health Diets
You may resort to mental health diets to aid in treating poor mental health. But the best thing to do is to speak to a professional in case you experience symptoms of a mental health condition like depression and anxiety.
Remember, you’re not alone in this. RDX Sports are right by your side in your struggle to move, improve, and evolve into the best version of yourself, outsmarting all obstacles, including your physical and mental health issues.