There is no doubt that eating something processed (e.g. a chocolate bar or a packet of chips) will raise our spirits intermittently! These foods are likely to activate a dopamine pathway in the brain, giving us a short-term fix to make us feel better.
But it is the long-term consequences of eating these foods regularly, which can significantly affect our mood. Generally, these discretionary foods are high in sugar and saturated fat, which can be detrimental to our long-term physical and mental health.
Studies have shown that nutrient-poor diets have strong links to mental health disorders, like anxiety and depression. Interestingly, depression is now considered a ‘whole body condition’, rather than just something in our heads. Evidence shows the relationship between gut health and one’s mood and mental state.
Why is gut health so important?
Essentially, it comes down to the bacteria in the gut (AKA the gut microbiome). People hold about 2kg of bacteria in the gut. These bacteria control normal body processes, which relate to the brain—for instance, mood regulation.
When we feed our gut with high-fibre and colourful foods, our gut microbiome can work more effectively. Whereas, when we provide the gut with processed and nutrient-poor foods, our gut bacteria can suffer.
Another aspect of the gut-brain connection is neurotrophins. Neurotrophins are a type of protein in the brain that protects, develops, and assists with neuron function! Some diet elements can encourage the growth of these neurotrophins, whereas discretionary foods can kill them off. Scientists have scanned the brains of people with varying levels of mental health. Findings show that the part of the brain responsible for learning and cognitive function is smaller in people that have a poor-quality diet.
It should be noted that depression is not solely linked to diet. It is a multifaceted disease, with many environmental, physical, and emotional triggers. Diet cannot cure depression alone, but it can significantly improve both mental and physical health.
Some small steps to improve mental health through diet, include:
These tips will boost one’s antioxidant, polyphenols and flavonoid intake (all excellent things, rest assured) and support the growth of neurotrophins in the brain. Score!
Eating can be very habitual, especially when it comes to using food as a reward. An example of this would be when a child is upset and is given a sweet treat to settle down. Same goes for if an adult has won a sports tournament and is rewarded with a high-energy beverage.
Knowing this information can assist us in making more mindful choices. Instead of using food as a reward, swap it for an activity. For instance, renting out a bike for the hour or buying a puzzle. Be creative and think about activities that will expand the mind!
Alternatively, you could use nutritious food as a reward. This might be a punnet of your favourite berries or a picnic with your nearest and dearest.
If you would like to discuss how your food is affecting your mood, book a consult at CQ Nutrition. A dietitian will conduct a compressive analysis on your current intake and develop personalised strategies to maximise your gut health and improve your mental state.
Here is a link to book in with one of our expert dietitians at any of our locations https://www.cqnutrition.com.au/booking/
Want an online consultation? Book in on my calendar and in comments write online: https://bit.ly/AnnieROK
Written by Annabel Johnston, BAppSc&MDietPrac & GCertDiabSt