Now more than ever, we need to be mindful of our mental health. During this COVID-19 pandemic, we may find ourselves a bit more stressed or feeling down. But did you know that what you eat can affect your mental health? Feeding your brain the right nutrients can keep it healthy and functioning properly. Here are some tips to help your mental health, from UC Davis Health registered dietitian Erica Trimble:

Mediterranean diet: For the head and the heart

Many of us know that a Mediterranean diet is beneficial for heart health, but did you know it can help with mental health too? People who follow a Mediterranean diet have been shown to have lower rates of depression. This diet type can also help protect against the development of depression.

You might ask, “How can this diet help two totally different areas of our body?” The main reason is that the Mediterranean diet is anti-inflammatory, and we are finding many chronic diseases are linked to chronic inflammation, including mental illness. To improve your mental health, eat like a Greek: increase your intake of fruit, vegetables, and seafood, opt for whole grains over processed grains, and incorporate healthy fats into your diet in the form of olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish.

Listen to your gut

Butterflies in your stomach is not the only way your emotions and gut are connected. Your gut and brain have a close connection known as the gut-brain axis. They communicate via hormones, immune cells, and the nervous system. Maintaining a healthy gut is important for maintaining a healthy mind. Keeping the bacteria in your gut happy and healthy is also a large part of this.

To feed your microbiome, work on the prebiotics and probiotics. The microbiome is made up of trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in the body. Prebiotics are food for those bacteria and come from high-fiber items such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Probiotics are living cultures that add to your microbiome and are found in foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and tempeh.

Keep your relationship with food positive

The best way to help your mental health with food is to have a good relationship with it! Unfortunately, we can't neglect this relationship with food when things get stressful or tough. Don’t let food control your thoughts and emotions all the time.

Many of us are quick to feel guilty when we eat something unhealthy or stress ourselves out by resisting that food we are craving. Instead, change your mindset to acknowledge that all foods have a place in our diets every once in a while. Put your energy towards motivating yourself to learn a new healthy recipe or write a grocery list to prevent unhealthy snacks from sneaking into your cart.