This Is The Optimal Diet For Better Mental Health, From A Nutritional Psychiatrist
If you were to ask nutritional psychiatrist Georgia Ede, M.D., what's the No. 1 factor causing increased levels of anxiety in today's generation, she'd passionately tell you that poor nutrition is the foundation of our struggles with mental health.
In fact, she told me on today's episode of the mindbodygreen podcast that "80% to 90% of people might not need medications today if we had been following common-sense nutritional advice from the start." That's a devastatingly huge number of people who have turned to medications when really, they only needed a change in their diet.
Ede sat down with me to discuss how we can use food as a way to enhance our mental health. From our insulin levels to our hormonal balance to our hunger pangs and cravings, the foods we put into our bodies can have significant effects (both positive and negative) on our anxiety, memory, and overall mood.
Ede explains what we should be eating to ensure optimal mental health—from our mood to stress, sleep, concentration, and energy. Her own personal experience as well as what she's seen with her clients has definitely surprised her, and I'm sure her tips will be a little unexpected for you as well (Hint: It's not your average plant-based eating plan!)
Here's the optimal diet from Ede, herself, that can benefit your mental health. Stress and anxiety, begone.
Eliminate processed foods.
"If you just get the processed foods out, you're 80% of the way to where you're trying to go," says Ede.
That said, if you're only going to remember one of Ede’s valuable tips, eliminating processed foods should be the No. 1 priority. According to Ede, simply eliminating junk food from your diet can jump-start your journey to taming inflammation, oxidation, and insulin resistance.
These processed, sugary foods cause a spike in blood sugar, causing your insulin levels to rise, which controls the levels and activity of your stress hormones. So if you're constantly eating processed foods, your insulin levels will remain high, and you'll end up on a "hormonal roller coaster" all day long, as Ede calls it.
Eat more animal protein.
Contrary to popular belief, Ede says eating meat (yes, even red meat!) has significant benefits for our mental health.
"It's the closest thing to a superfood that I can think of," she adds.
Animal foods also contain vitamin D3, which is the exact type of vitamin D the body is looking for. So, while the weather is looking gray and grim for the next couple of months, perhaps you can get your fill of vitamin D from fatty-animal-based foods.
"Animal food contains all the vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids that your brain and body need," she concludes.
If you're not so partial to red meat, Ede reassures me that poultry and seafood are just as nutrient-dense and can offer brain-boosting benefits. Just make sure you're getting enough fat, even if you're plant-based or vegan.
"Any fat that exists in nature is perfectly fine and healthy to eat, as long as it's not processed, refined, or manufactured," Ede says. "If you find it in a whole food—whether it's a plant or animal food—there's no reason why you can't have it."
In fact, you may want to go full keto.
Speaking of fat, Ede believes a keto diet is the way to go for most people. This high-fat, low-carb diet can lower insulin levels, stabilize glucose levels, and allows the brain to burn more fat than glucose for energy.
"A ketogenic diet isn't for everyone," she admits. "But a ketogenic diet is a really important tool for people who are trying to improve their brain's access to energy and the overall health of their brain's metabolism."
Ede also mentions the budding research of the keto diet's effects on Alzheimer's disease. While there is currently no cure for the disease, Ede says there are some beneficial prevention methods we can (and should, in fact) do as early as in our 20s and 30s. And one of those scientifically backed preventive methods, believe it or not, is keto.
"I actually work with patients who have early Alzheimer's and are on a ketogenic diet," Ede notes. "And we actually see improvements in their mental clarity when they eat a ketogenic diet."
Intermittent fasting is great, but it can have complications.
Like many other medical professionals, Ede also believes our society has an unhealthy tendency to eat way too often. She's a proponent for intermittent fasting, as (like keto) it can reduce insulin and blood glucose levels, which as we now know, has significant effects on our brain health.
However, it's important to keep in mind that intermittent fasting isn't for everyone—and it's important to take mental health into account.
"Intermittent fasting can, for some people who are prone to perfectionistic tendencies, trigger some competitive instincts," she says.
That said, there's a difference between sticking to a fast and ignoring your hunger pains in an unhealthy way. It's always best to consult with a professional before starting any restrictive diet to discuss not only your physical health but mental health as well.
Keeping all of Ede's tips in mind can help keep your anxiety, mood, and energy levels stabilized. But her biggest piece of advice on how to eat for optimal mental health? Cut out the processed foods, and you're golden.
"If you're eating whole foods, and you're not eating junk food, that takes care of most of the problem," she notes.
So, if you needed some inspiration to throw away your manufactured snacks and processed pastries, consider this your sign, straight from a nutritional psychiatrist herself.