Ever hear the expression “You are what you eat”? In recent years, evidence shows that food can contribute to the development, prevention, and management of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety disorders. There is a connection between the brain and the gut, as approximately 90% of serotonin receptors are in the gut. Serotonin is used to transmit messages between nerve cells and plays a role in appetite, motor/cognitive/autonomic functions and most importantly wellbeing and emotions.
Researchers are also taking a closer look at why diet may influence mental health. Studies are exploring diet’s effects on gut microbiota (organisms in the intestinal tract), neuroplasticity (brain’s ability to modify structure, wiring and function), oxidative stress (cellular damage) and chronic inflammation.What we eat, especially foods that contain chemical additives and ultra-processed foods, affects our gut environment and increases our risk of diseases too.
Here are some useful tips for managing your mood through a balanced diet:
Eat often enough - Eating a variety of foods regularly throughout your day.Try to get the most color on your plate each meal.This helps you balance your vitamins/minerals and keep your blood sugar levels steady. Eating at regular intervals also helps to ensure your body has a continuous source of fuel, keeping your mood stable.
Healthy lean source of protein with every meal (eggs, poultry, seafood, tofu, Greek yogurt) - slows the absorption of carbohydrates in your blood and increase the release of dopamine and norepinephrine, which may improve your mood and energy for several hours after eating.
Fiber (whole grains, oats, beans, pears, peas, brussel sprouts) – Foods that contain fiber tend to be nutrient rich, slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream and increase serotonin to stabilize your mood throughout the day.
Start paying attention to how eating different foods makes you feel — not just in the moment, but the next day. Try eating a “clean” diet for two to three weeks — that means cutting out all processed foods and sugar. What you may discover is that the processed foods may satisfy your taste buds, but they probably don’t help your mood. The biggest culprits are simple sugars that cause your blood sugar to rise and fall like a rollercoaster. Blood sugar spikes and drops can leave you with a short-lived burst of energy followed by a tired, cranky feeling.
See how you feel after those 2-3 weeks; then slowly introduce foods back into your diet, one by one, and see how you feel! Many people notice a dramatic difference!
Magill, A.What is the Relationship Between Food and Mood? March 13, 2018.Mental Health First Aid News.Accessed 5/22/19
Selhub, E.Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food.April 05, 2018.Harvard Health Blog.Accessed 5/22/19
Naidoo, Uda. Gut Feelings: How Food Affects Your Mood. December 7. 2018. Harvard Health Blog. Accessed 5/21/19