By Brandy Abalos
There is a direct link between the food you eat and the way you feel. Food can affect not only your physical health but also your psychological well-being and mental stability. It’s important to eat a balanced diet to promote a happier and healthier life overall.
The Connection Between Your Gut and Your Brain
Your stomach is full of bacteria that help you break down foods. This microbiome is often referred to as your “gut environment.” Everyone has a unique gut environment that is created within the first 1,000 days of life. However, that microbiome can be altered throughout life depending on what you eat, the medication you take and other health conditions you may experience.
According to Harvard Medical School, 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut. Experts have developed a new field of study called nutritional psychiatry that evaluates the connections among gut health, diet and mood.
When a person is prescribed antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the most common side effects are related to the stomach and gastrointestinal system. Many people experience nausea, diarrhea and other digestive issues. These side effects are typically temporary, but they clearly establish the connection between these SSRI medications and the gut.
There is also an anatomical and physiological link between the gut and the brain. The vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve or CN X that runs from the brain through the heart, lungs and down to the digestive tract.
If the balance between good and bad bacteria is disrupted in the gut, a person can experience many health problems. In addition to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), obesity, metabolic issues and other gastrointestinal problems, you can develop cognitive and mood issues.
Diet is Directly Linked to Depression
Recent studies indicate that a healthy and balanced diet can protect against depression. In fact, one study has gone so far as to create an Antidepressant Food Scale. It lists 12 nutrients that
can act as antidepressants—both in the prevention and treatment of the condition. Some of the primary foods that contain those nutrients include strawberries, cauliflower, oysters, mussels, romaine lettuce and salmon.
Poor diet and depression seem to come together in a circular cycle. Being depressed often makes a person more likely to eat unhealthy foods. People who are feeling down may opt for easy, prepackaged foods that are processed instead of healthier fresh foods. It can also be considered a difficult task to prepare healthy foods while one is depressed.
It can be difficult to get out of this cycle when a low mood hits. Doctors suggest taking it one step at a time. Someone who is depressed might not be able to dedicate an hour to prepare a healthy
meal from fresh ingredients, but they can opt for an apple instead of chips. Small changes will make a difference in the long run.
What Type of Diet Is Best for Maintaining a Good Mood?
Many of the researchers at Harvard Medical School recommend a Mediterranean-style diet. Past studies have indicated that this type of diet can protect against heart attack, stroke and other conditions that lead to premature death.
After looking at the diets of more than 10,000 women between the ages of 50 and 60, researchers found that individuals who followed a healthier diet in their middle ages were 40% more likely
to live past the age of 70. Those individuals also were less likely to suffer from chronic illnesses, physical and mental problems.
People tend to have fewer mood disorders when they eat more plant-based foods, whole grains and fish. A diet rich in olive oil and
nuts is also encouraged. Avoiding red meats and processed foods is also helpful. Researchers found that a limited alcohol intake also improves mental health over the long term. These characteristics are typical of a Mediterranean diet.
A healthier diet while young and through middle age can greatly benefit your physical and mental health as you age. This is because there is a long-term impact of the nutrients you consume, including reduced inflammation and oxidative stress throughout your body, and in particular in the nervous system. In particular, age-related brain diseases and mental health are reduced when people eat a better diet as they age. Other bodily functions that are benefitted include an improved metabolism and insulin sensitivity, reducing the incidence of type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Characteristics of a Mediterranean-Style Diet
In order to follow a Mediterranean Diet, it’s important to understand the primary elements of one. This type of diet is made up of the following:
» Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, herbs and spices as the the base of every meal
» Frequently eating fish—at least twice per week
» Moderate portions of cheese and yogurt
» Moderate portions of poultry and eggs
» Limited (3 oz) portions of red meat
» Plenty of water daily and wine only in moderation (one glass per day for women and two glasses per day for men)
These changes can seem overwhelming if you try to take them on all at once. However, it is best to swap foods you’re already eating with a healthier option. Take these steps slowly over time.
Other Suggestions for a Healthier Diet and Improved Mood
Harvard Medical School also suggests the following to improve mood through food:
» Eat plenty of fiber, including whole grains and legumes.
» Include foods in your diet with probiotics like yogurt without added sugars.
» Avoid processed foods and opt for whole foods instead.
» Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables than juice.
» Reduce sugar intake early in the day.
» Add fermented foods to your diet, including kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi.
» Eat a variety of lean meats, including seafood and poultry.
» Include a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet.
» A Healthy Diet Can Lead to Improved Mood
Many people seek to change their diets in order to benefit physically. However, research has shown that certain dietary changes can also prevent and treat depression and other mood problems. The best way to improve your mood is to make positive changes in your diet overall.