What we eat doesn’t only affect our physical health, it also affects how our brain functions!

You might have noticed that when you eat certain foods, you feel more energetic, happier, and ready to take on anything and everything. In the same way that you might have noticed that other foods make you feel tired, sleepy, and less productive. Of course, there are several factors that can affect how you feel, but nutrition is one important piece of the puzzle when it comes to mental wellbeing.

Research studies looking at the complex relationship between nutrition and mental health have noted the importance of increasing our consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes for reduced risk of depression. Research has also noted specific food patterns leading to a higher risk of depression and anxiety; mostly lacking specific vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids.

Below we’ll talk about how specific diet patterns affect our brain in different ways!

Food & Mood

It is well-known that a diet high in refined carbohydrates leads to a high risk of obesity and diabetes, but studies have also shown that this type of diet can lead to a higher incidence of depressive symptoms (such as increased sadness, anxiety, loss of interest in pleasurable activities), and decreased mood.

I know what you are thinking – So food affects our mood, but doesn’t mood affect our food choices? That is correct, but it’s a little more complicated than that. Let’s take a deeper look at this relationship:

A diet high in refined carbohydrates, including sugars and grains without any fibre, repeatedly increases blood sugar levels in an abrupt manner. These sugar levels quickly decrease as our body rapidly uses and stores this energy. The constant rapid increase and decrease in blood sugar levels leads to hypoglycemia and triggers the secretion of hormones that affect our irritability, anxiety, and hunger.

The bottom line is make sure you include fibre in your daily meals. Food high in dietary fibre can stabilize the release of sugar into the blood, ending the abrupt highs and lows and ultimately leading to a better mood.

Food & Inflammation

Diets high in calories and saturated fats can increase inflammation in humans, which can lead to increased risk of cognitive decline and depression. Research has shown that anti-inflammatory nutritional components, such as polyphenols and polyunsaturated fats, can significantly reduce depressive symptoms. Polyphenols are packed with antioxidants and can be found in red grapes, dark chocolate, red cabbage, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fats.

Please keep in mind that this diet, inflammation, and depression relationship is more complicated for people who have been diagnosed with clinical depression/major depression.

Here’s the bottom line… If you are not diagnosed with clinical depression/major depression, increasing your intakes of foods having polyphenols and polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3, can lead to decreased inflammation in your body and a decreased risk of cognitive decline and depression.

Food & Our Microbiome

The trillions of bacterial organisms in our gut interact with our brain daily through different signaling pathways, which include hormones and nerves. Evidence has shown that altered interactions between the gut microbiome and the brain leads to major depressive disorder symptoms. What are these “altered interactions”? This refers to the imbalance in our healthy gut microbiome that occurs through antibiotic intake, low prebiotic intake, low probiotic intake, high saturated fat intake, and high sugar intake.

Some studies have shown that eating probiotics can increase the brain’s response to tasks that require emotional attention and can reduce symptoms of depression.

Most importantly, include probiotics and prebiotics in your daily meals to positively help with the interaction between your brain and gut microbiome. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi. Prebiotics can be found in foods with high fibre content, such as legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

In Summary

There are many different causes of mental illnesses which can occur and persist independently of nutrition; however, there is a lot of promising research in the area of mental health and nutrition leading to one recommendation – that following a healthy, nutritious diet low in highly processed and refined foods can lead to mental health benefits.

Resources:  

(1) Firth, Joseph, et al. “Food and Mood: How Do Diet and Nutrition Affect Mental Wellbeing?” BMJ, 2020, p. m4269., https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m4269. 

(2) Lim, So Young, et al. “Nutritional Factors Affecting Mental Health.” Clinical Nutrition Research, vol. 5, no. 3, 2016, p. 143., https://doi.org/10.7762/cnr.2016.5.3.143 

(3) Offor, Samuel J., et al. “Augmenting Clinical Interventions in Psychiatric Disorders: Systematic Review and Update on Nutrition.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, vol. 12, 2021, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.565583. 

Friday, October 15, 2021 in ,
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