Whilst we know that eating well is important for our physical health, research now suggests that what we eat can also have an effect on our mental health and well being too.
If you think about it, our brains are constantly working, it looks after our breathing, thoughts, how we move, and our senses. It is even working whilst we’re asleep, therefore it requires to be fed and fueled – our brain requires roughly 500 kcals a day. So it’s important that the organ that is involved in regulating our mood is fed adequately.
So how is the food we eat influence our mood?
We have a neurotransmitter called Serotonin, which helps to regulate our mood as well things such as sleep, appetite and pain. Most of our serotonin is produced in our digestive system which is home to millions of nerve cells, neurons and microbes. Identification of the trillions of microbes that live in our gut, has brought to light research into this two-way communication between our gut microbiota and our brain – which we refer to as our ‘gut-brain axis’. The functioning of this communication is influenced by our type of bacteria that make up our intestinal microbiome. The good bacteria can therefore influence the health of our gut and play a role in regulating our digestive and immune systems. Research has shown that stress, anxiety and disease states affect the balance of bacteria and microbes in the gut. This could be a cold, or a stressful deadline approaching at work for example. A healthy gut (in terms of the bacteria) can therefore help to promote a healthy mind.
A study from 2017 which randomized people with moderate to severe depression to receive either a Mediterranean diet (A diet compromising of whole grains, fish, olive oil, nuts, fruits and vegetables), delivered by a Dietitian for 12 weeks Vs a type of counselling to act as a placebo intervention found that those following the Mediterranean diet and a 30% improvement in their happiness levels compared to the placebo. A level deems as clinical remission – although still on baseline medication. So whilst the study didn’t directly measure gut bacteria, it is well research that the Mediterranean diet has a positive influence on our good bacteria.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in pre and probiotics as well as dietary fibre, all things that we know to help feed the good bacteria in our gut.
So how can we modify our diets to ensure we’re feeding our food bacteria and therefore helping to improve our mood?
- Variety is key –Try to incorporate as many different plant based foods as you can, foods such as wholegrains, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses as well as fruit and vegetables. This will help to increase the diversity of your microbiome.
- Incorporate foods you enjoy – Try and pay attention to the foods that make you feel good and don’t create a restrictive mind-set. All foods fit in the diet and it’s important to enjoy what you eat.
- Consume foods high in pre and probiotics – Foods such as artichoke, garlic, leek, onion, asparagus, wholegrains, milk, yoghurt and fermented foods.
- Reduce your food waste – Keep the skin on your potatoes, eat the stalks of your broccoli and cauliflower! This is generally where the most fibre is found.
It’s important to note that, while nutrition can have a positive impact on our mood and wellbeing, no single food can cause or cure any mental health illness, but it can form a small piece of a jigsaw puzzle.
Rebecca Jennings – Nutritionist
@ Love To Eat Nutrition
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