Guest Post written by Shirley Samuel
Feeling anxious or depressed? Doctors might soon prescribe a change in diet as one way to cope with mental health issues. A growing body of research suggests the food we eat directly affects the state of our mental health. Evidence points to a whole food diet as superior to the standard western diet laden with processed foods and refined sugar. The question is: how exactly does eating wholesome food affect our mood?
The gut and brain connection
The human body is a collection of organ systems, and each one has its specific influence on one another. It means that the biological functions of the nervous system are not isolated from those of the digestive system and vice versa. So what happens to one has a profound impact on the other. Like all other organ systems, the two are constantly communicating with each other.
This communication between the gut and brain is what scientists call the ‘gut-brain axis.’ A study published in the Annals of General Psychiatry looked at the effect probiotics have on depression symptoms. Researchers Caroline J.K. Wallace and Roumen Milev explained that the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the central nervous system (CNS) continuously send biochemical signals between one another. Wallace and Milev conclude the majority of studies included in the review found evidence that the health of our gut microbiome affects our emotions.
Besides genetics and other factors, food consumption directly affects the structure and function of the brain. Nutritional psychiatry experts explain that probiotics are some of the most important elements that affect mental health. One reason is that serotonin, the chemical responsible for regulating mood and easing anxiety, is mostly produced in the GI tract. Microbiomes have been found to promote the production of serotonin which is associated with reducing symptoms of mental health illnesses such as depression. Simply put, having good bacteria in your gut can help regulate your mood and significantly improve your overall mental health.
What to eat and what not to eat
Medical Express lists some foods that increase your psychological well-being and categorizes these ingredients into five types:
- Complex carbohydrates such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains
- Antioxidants such as different types of berries and dark leafy greens
- Omega 3 fatty acids such as fish, nuts, and seeds
- B vitamins in green vegetables, beans, bananas, and beets
- Prebiotics and probiotics found in yogurt and fermented food such as kimchi and kombucha
A diet that enhances both physical and mental health can have a significant impact in all areas of your life. There is a link between learning success and mental health. A person who has a poor diet is much more likely to have difficulty with their memory and cognitive skills. The food we eat can make us better students and employees or do the opposite. Our mental health is not only put at stake by eating poorly, but our mental capacity is also harmed.
In addition to consuming the healthy foods listed above, it is important to avoid processed food, sugary drinks, and alcohol that lack essential vitamins and minerals. Scientists also caution against consuming refined sugars if your goal is to improve your psychological well-being. Sugar affects your ability to process emotion due to the elevated levels of blood glucose. It can increase feelings of sadness and anxiety and is even linked with depression. Aside from that, sugar is also harmful to cognitive functions such as memory, motor speed, and learning. For more info on sugar, check out our article “Does sugar make you tired, lethargic? Here’s Why.”
Author Bio: Shirley Samuel is a health and nutrition writer. She also loves to exercise and her main goal is to empower her readers to create healthier choices and change their lives.