How diet affects mental health? Which foods are good for our health and what is the correlation between the gut microbiome and brain function.
We will try to explain how food is connected with how we feel and what to do to feel better.
Your brain is always “on.”
It takes care of your thoughts and movements, your breathing and heartbeat, your senses.
It works hard 24/7, even while you’re asleep.
This means your brain requires a constant supply of fuel.
That “fuel” comes from the foods you eat — and what’s in that fuel makes all the difference.
Put simply, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.
Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel.
Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourish the brain and protect it from oxidative stress.
The “waste” (free radicals) produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage cells.
Unfortunately, just like an expensive car, your brain can be damaged if you ingest anything other than premium fuel.
Read More: How To Improve Brain Health
If substances from “low-premium” fuel (such as what you get from processed or refined foods) get to the brain, it has little ability to get rid of them.
Diets high in refined sugars, for example, are harmful to the brain.
In addition to worsening your body’s regulation of insulin, they also promote inflammation and oxidative stress.
Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function.
And even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.
It makes sense.
If your brain is deprived of good-quality nutrition, or if free radicals or damaging inflammatory cells are circulating within the brain’s enclosed space, further contributing to brain tissue injury, consequences are to be expected.
What’s interesting is that for many years, the medical field did not fully acknowledge the connection between mood and food.
Today, fortunately, the burgeoning field of nutritional psychiatry is finding there are many consequences and correlations between not only what you eat. How you feel, and how you ultimately behave, but also the kinds of bacteria that live in your gut.
How Diet Affects Your Mental Health
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain.
Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions.
What’s more, the function of these neurons — and the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin — is highly influenced by the billions of “good” bacteria that make up your intestinal microbiome.
Read More: How Your Gut Microbiome Affects Your Brain
These bacteria play an essential role in your health. Good bacteria protect the lining of your intestines and ensure they provide a strong barrier against toxins and “bad” bacteria.
They limit inflammation; they improve how well you absorb nutrients from your food, and they activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and the brain.
Studies have shown that when people take probiotics (supplements containing the good bacteria), their anxiety levels, perception of stress, and mental outlook improve, compared with people who did not take probiotics.
Other studies have compared “traditional” diets, like the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet, to a typical “Western” diet and have shown that the risk of depression is 25% to 35% lower in those who eat a traditional diet.
Scientists account for this difference because these traditional diets tend to be high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, and fish and seafood, and to contain only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy.
They are also void of processed and refined foods and sugars, which are staples of the “Western” dietary pattern.
Also, many of these unprocessed foods are fermented, and therefore act as natural probiotics.
Fermentation uses bacteria and yeast to convert sugar in food to carbon dioxide, alcohol, and lactic acid.
It is used to protect food from spoiling and can add a pleasant taste and texture.
This may sound implausible to you, but the notion that good bacteria not only influence what your gut digests and absorbs but that they also affect the degree of inflammation throughout your body.
As well as your mood and energy level are gaining traction among researchers. The results so far have been quite amazing.
What You Can Do
Understanding that you might be “psychologically malnourished” can help motivate you to look carefully at your diet and see where improvements can be made.
Switching up your diet to routinely include more foods that appear to fight inflammation.
Salmon and other omega-3 rich fatty fish, and gradually adding more probiotic foods and high-fiber whole grains, legumes, and vegetables to your diet—foods that conform to a generally healthier eating style—will likely improve both your physical and mental health, without doing you any harm.
Keep in mind, too, that healing is never just about food.
Managing mental health is much more complicated than simply eating the right foods.
There are other lifestyle changes you can make and steps you can take to improve your health and your quality of life.
These include learning about stress management, practicing relaxation techniques, getting more exercise, and reaching out for support from family, friends, spiritual counselors, and mental health professionals.
Discuss any use of supplements with your health care providers to see if they are right for you.
Even those that appear to have mental health benefits can have undesirable side effects and could potentially interfere with the action of medications and other supplements you may be taking.
Build your nourishment toolbox by trying out a new dish or ingredient today.
For a snack, consider pistachios, which are packed with B vitamins (vitamin B6, folate and thiamine, to be exact) and high in the amino acid tryptophan.
Or give sunflower seeds, which are a source of vitamin B6 and amino acids.
You may already eat quinoa, which contains all of the essential amino acids, but how about amaranth?
This versatile pseudo-cereal is high in protein and can be part of a salad.
Read More: Amaranth Health Benefits
Or, try new-to-you seafood. Mussels contain protein, thiamine and vitamin B12 and can be enjoyed steamed on their own.
Conclusion: If you want to improve your mental health you must change your diet first.
Diet affects your mental health but you must change your lifestyle too.
It is important to know how to de-stress by practicing yoga or breathing techniques. Be physically active, spend more time in nature.