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  • Mental Health and Nutrition

    Can nutrition affect your mood? Well, it appears more and more research does show that what we eat can affect our mood. Many are aware that a well-balanced diet is good for your physical health.  However, many may not know that the food we consume can also affect your mood.  In addition, your mood can affect the types of food we eat.  Our brain is such an interesting and intricate organ.  Our brains are filled with lots of chemicals we call neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, GABA and dopamine are responsible for our mood. Nutrition does have an impact on neurotransmitters that affect mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.   We know that depression and anxiety are the most reported mental health issues worldwide so it may make sense to consider nutrition as part of treatment. Unfortunately, nutrition has been overlooked when treating many mental health conditions. There is a challenge however, to make changes or even know how to make these changes in a person’s life.  Another factor that must be considered is the impact of nutrition on our physical health.  How does this affect our mental health?  Well, when we consider that poor eating habits can lead to diseases such as type 2 diabetes or hypertension.  We know that depression for example may affect appetite, in turn lead to poor eating habits that can lead to poor physical health. The other issue is some physical health issues from poor eating habits affect metal health by contributing to their symptoms.

    Food For Mood

    What foods affect mood?  We know that the neurotransmitter serotonin is related to mood disorders like depression. Let’s look at carbohydrates first, carbohydrates help fuel the brain by providing glucose to the brain. Ever had cravings for carbs?  Yes!  Well, it is known that craving carbs are associated with low serotonin levels in the brain.  The same serotonin responsible for mood.  Not all carbohydrates are created equal. There are two types of carbs, complex and simple.  Simple Carbs are sugar, fructose, brown sugar and juices.  These carbs are not good for you.  High consumption of these carbs can lead to physical health issues like type 2 diabetes. This can also cause glucose to rise and fall quickly.  When this happens, this can have an effect on your mood.  It can make you feel irritable and lack of energy and can cause you to become anxious. Complex carbs are a healthy alternative, these include whole grains, vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy. Complex carbs release energy slower and helps to stabilize mood better. Make sure you eat your vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables.

    Fats for mood

    How can Fats help mood?  Not all fats are created equal.  Fats such as omega-3’s are good fats that are essential for the brain to function effectively.  In fact, omega-3’s are important to how neurotransmitters are used in the brain. Healthy fats can be found in salmon, avocados, eggs and nuts.

    Healthy gut healthy mood

    How can the stomach effect my mood? The fact is the stomach can play a big role in mood regulation. The stomach is actually filled with bacteria. Some of the bacteria in the stomach is good bacteria. The good bacteria actually protect the stomach from bad bacteria.  High fibrous foods are preferred for creating the good bacteria in the stomach.  Good bacteria in the stomach produces short chain fatty acids that fuel our stomach to absorb nutrients we need to feel well. Importantly, the good bacteria produce the neurotransmitter serotonin. It is estimated that over 80 percent of serotonin is produced in the gut.  Serotonin also regulates melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep. Sleep, as is well documented, is necessary for good mental health. Eating vegetables, legumes, beans and fruit can improve good bacteria.  In addition, eating foods like yogurt with prebiotics can also be good but be careful as yogurts can contain high sugar content. 

    Protein and your mood

    Carbs are not the only fuel for the brain, we can’t forget protein. Protein contains amino acids that are vital to the function of the brain.  It is well known that amino acids help with regulating mood.  In fact, neurotransmitters are created from amino acids, for example the amino acid tryptophan makes serotonin.  Research shows increased levels of tryptophan can reduce anxiety. Again, not any protein will do, lean meats, turkey, fish and eggs provide a good source of protein.  Fatty meats, hot dogs high in saturated fats are not good sources of protein for the brain.

    Diet for mood

    What diets can help mood?  One diet that research has shown to be good for mood is the Mediterranean diet. People who follow a Mediterranean diet have shown an improvement in depressed mood over time.  The diet has also been shown to help with cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease. What is a Mitterrandian diet?  A Mediterranean diet should not be confused with pizza or gyros as part of the diet. The Mediterranean diet we are discussing in this case is high in vegetables, fruits and legumes.  The diet limits dairy and meats and increases oily fish at least twice a week.  Oily Fish?  Yes, fish high in omega-3’s like salmon, mackerel, cod and sardines. Whole grains also play a role in the diet. One key component to this diet is the use of olive oil for cooking and salad dressings.  This maybe a diet worth looking into to help improve mental health.

    Supplement for mental health

    Can supplements help with mental health?  There is much debate as to whether or not supplements or vitamins help with mood. This is a subject best for personal research but there are some who believe they can help.  B-vitamins are believed to help with symptoms associated with depression.  It is believed that vitamin B-12 with foliate supplements increase serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Vitamin D is another vitamin believed to be vital to mental health,

    especially with depression. You can get vitamin D from the sun as well as through supplements.

    However, you should never take any supplements without checking with your doctor first.

    Physical and mental health connection

    It is clear that there is a connection between how people feel mentally and how they feel physically and vise versa.  There is no substitute for therapy but taking care of yourself physically can make a difference in your progress.