Many experts agree that, yes, what teens eat can affect their mental health. Websites such as youthvillages.org/mental-health-awareness/ can help teens make better nutritional decisions. Please be aware that this article will discuss eating habits and may be triggering to people who deal with disordered eating.
Making smart food choices can be part of an overall plan for managing mental health. Medical professionals recommend the following to help teens make smart food decisions.
- Eat regularly to avoid drops in blood sugar that can trigger negative moods.
- Drink water regularly to avoid dehydration, which can also trigger negative moods.
- Avoid unhealthy trans fats from processed foods, but include healthy fats such as olive oil in your eating plan.
- Eat some protein at every meal. The amino acids in protein help the body regulate moods.
- Eat enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and probiotic foods containing fiber to avoid constipation, which can be another trigger of negative moods.
- Be aware of how much caffeine you consume. Caffeine can affect your sleep patterns, and sleep has a strong effect on mental health.
The Mental Health Foundation also recommends eating at least one of your daily meals together with family, friends, or both. Eating with others helps us feel connected to other people. This, in turn, has a positive effect on our mental health.
1- Folate Improves Mood
According to Mental Health America, young adults dealing with depression can make food choices to help lessen their depression symptoms. This includes choosing foods rich in folate, also called folic acid or vitamin B9. Good sources of this nutrient include whole grains and leafy green vegetables like spinach, fruit, nuts, and beans.
2- Omega-3 Fatty Acids Ease ADHD Symptoms
Depression isn’t the only condition that can be helped by making healthier eating choices. For overall mood stabilization and potential help for young people with ADHD, Mental Health America recommends eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Walnuts, olive oil, flaxseed, and leafy green vegetables are all sources of these healthy fats.
3- Vitamin D Fights SAD
Vitamin D is another nutrient that Mental Health America names as protective against depression symptoms, including the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Some of the foods with the highest naturally occurring amounts of vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon and tuna. For vegetarians, foods fortified with vitamin D, including some breakfast cereals and orange juice, may be a healthy option.
The American Society for Nutrition has also published findings on the mental health benefits of eating a diet that features whole grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and healthier fats (unsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil and nuts). It calls this eating pattern the Mediterranean diet. The American Society for Nutrition emphasizes that research shows people who eat the Mediterranean diet in a study experienced fewer depression symptoms than a control group with different eating habits.
As we’ve seen, superfoods can improve teen mental health in three ways. First, teens can eat folate-rich foods to boost their mood. Secondly, superfoods rich in omega-3 fatty acids help fight the symptoms of ADHD. Third, vitamin D-rich superfoods can decrease the symptoms of depression. If you’re struggling with your mental health, Mental Health America can help. For help in a crisis, go to 988lifeline.org to chat or text 988. Please seek help if you think you may be dealing with disordered eating.