There are many factors when it comes to the prevention or management of mental health, Nutrition is one piece of the puzzle. An integrated approach that equally reflects the interplay of biological factors, as well as broader psychological, emotional and social conceptions of mental health, is vital in order to reduce the prevalence and the distress caused by mental health problems. There is a growing body of evidence of nutritional choices in the prevention, development and management of diagnosed mental health problems.
Just like the heart, stomach and liver, the brain is an organ that requires different amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and water to remain healthy. Feeding the brain with a diet that provides adequate amounts of nutrients can support healthy neurotransmitter activity. It can protect the brain from the effects of oxidants, which have been shown negatively to impact mood and mental health, but it’s not just choosing foods that support brain health that we need to consider when talking about mental health, your digestive system also plays an important role.
Gut/brain connection and how the microbes in your gut can affect your mood:
Have you ever noticed the “butterfly feeling” in your stomach when you're excited? Or feelings of nausea when you're anxious or stressed? This is because of the gut-brain connection. Your gut contains 500 million neurons which are connected to your brain through your nervous system. The vagus nerve which sends signals in both directions is one of the biggest nerves connecting your gut and brain. This means your mood can affect the quality of your digestion and vice versa. The diversity of the microbes in your gut or your gut microbiome also have an affect on your mood, as approximately 90-95% of serotonin “the happy hormone” is produced in your gut. Serotonin plays a role in mood and sleep regulation. Studies have also found higher concentrations of certain “bad bacteria” in individuals with anxiety or depression. When the human microbiome is challenged with changes in diet, stress, or antibiotics, the physiology of the normal microbiome undergoes change disrupting the balance between good bacteria and bad bacteria.
So what are a few things you can do to make food choices that support optimal nutrition for your brain, digestive system and positively support your mood:
Stay hydrated: If you don't drink enough fluid, you may find it difficult to concentrate or think clearly. Dehydration can also cause a sluggish digestive system resulting in constipation.
Water is always the best option but tea, coffee & fresh smoothies can also contribute to fluid intake.
Ensure you are getting enough protein: When protein is broken down in the body it turns into amino acids which are essential building blocks for neurotransmitters.
Beans, legumes, tofu, quinoa, organic grass fed meat, fish are all good sources of protein.
Include fermented foods into your daily diet to support a healthy microbiome: Fermented foods contain good bacteria which has a positive effect on your gut.
Sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, tempeh are all good options.
Make sure you are consuming enough vitamins and minerals: Many people today are not consuming the daily recommended intake of vitamins and minerals leading to nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition.
Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and focus on incorporating as many different colours as you can. All whole foods contain different vitamins and minerals focusing on variety ensures you are consuming all essential nutrients.
Broadly speaking, foods high in refined carbohydrates and sugars can have a negative effect on brain function tricking the brain into releasing neurotransmitters that we may be lacking, thereby creating a temporary alteration in mood and leading to fast “crash” making you feel worse.
In combination with other things such as talk therapy, mindfulness and exercise, making healthy food choices can positively impact your mental health. Start paying attention to how eating different foods makes you feel — not just in the moment, but the next day. Choosing whole nutritious foods can improve both physical and mental health.
My goal is to provide science based wellness information. The information provided on this website and blog are not intended to replace medical advice or diagnosis from a physician or other medical provider.