Have you ever noticed yourself feeling sad or burned out while mindlessly eating a slice of cake or a cup of ice cream just to feel good about the day? Well, we all know that our moods largely affect our choice of food. But the connection of food to medical mood disorders such as depression is still less clear. A new field of nutrition called ‘Nutritional Psychiatry’ studies mental health in relation to food choices. This discipline aims to study the connection of food intake to potentially improve one’s mental health.
Though there are several studies indicating that there is a relation between food and mental health, researchers are still looking for answers. A systematic meta-analysis (i.e. analysis of multiple researches to come up with one common conclusion) composed of 22 studies published in Annals of Neurology in 2013 found out that adherence to Mediterranean diet may contribute to the prevention of series of brain diseases. Mediterranean diet, hailed as one of the healthiest diets in the world, emphasizes eating of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and seeds, fish, and olive oil; while limiting consumption of sugar, animal fats, and red meat. This study is seconded by another meta-analysis composed of 21 studies published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers claimed that a healthy diet was significantly associated with reduced odds of depression. An epidemiological study also suggested that children and adolescents’ unhealthy dietary pattern was significantly associated with poorer mental health, and that a healthy diet could reverse these detrimental effects.
“Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, appetite, moods, and pain, contributes to the feeling of well-being and happiness. ”
So why these foods? The answer to this is: ‘A healthy brain needs a healthy gut!’ The gut is very important for mood regulation because of this certain substance called serotonin. Most of the body’s serotonin, also called ‘the happy chemical’, are produced in the intestine. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, appetite, moods, and pain, contributes to the feeling of well-being and happiness. No wonder the common side effects of antidepressant medications are gut related such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. The foods mentioned above can keep the intestine healthy by providing probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are the good bacteria, while prebiotics are the food for the good bacteria to keep them alive. These foods prevent inflammation in the body leading to a protective effect against depression. A healthy gut can produce a substantial amount of serotonin to keep you in a good feeling.
Thus, it makes sense that when your body is deprived of good nutrition (i.e. encouraging foods high in fat, sugar, and red meat) while engaging in vices like alcohol and smoking, your body will react negatively. Your body will be exposed to numerous free radicals that will be damaging not only to your brain cells but to all the cells in your body. There is nothing happy about this and unfortunate consequences are to be expected.
Keeping happy does not only come down to eating healthy but also having an active lifestyle. This brings a whole new dimension to the statement ‘You are what you eat’. One can even say that ‘You feel what you eat.’