Over the last decade, more emphasis has been put on our mental health. From a surprising increase in mindfulness and meditation apps to people flocking to the suburbs and countryside as soon as remote work became a viable option.
Mental health days are the new norm; seeking therapy and openly talking about it isn’t a big deal anymore, and exercising is now considered a form of meditation. The times are changing, and we’re not mad about it.
If you’re interested in taking a proactive approach to your mental health, you’ve landed in the right place. Today, we’ll take a closer look at how food affects your mental health; the results might surprise you.
How does food affect your mood?
Did you know that the happy bacteria in your GI tract are partially responsible for producing our favorite chemicals, dopamine and serotonin? These chemicals are the reason for that comforting feeling you get when you hug your partner. They are also responsible for that feel-good rush you feel after a great workout.
Your gut and brain are inexorably intertwined, and the connection is the key to improving your mental health. When you eat foods that make your gut happy, your body can produce more happy bacteria, improving neurotransmitter production.
When you eat the bad stuff, sure, you get that little dopamine spike while eating it, but once it’s in your GI tract, you’re providing a feast for the harmful bacteria. Your gut can be likened to a peaceful seaside town or a warzone; it all depends on what you’re feeding yourself.
The naughty list
Processed foods: This phrase gets thrown around a lot, so many people may not understand what this means. The best way to remember what to avoid is to think about the amount of processing required before the food hits the shelf.
Think refined cereals (the sugary stuff we grew up with), candy, sandwich meats, fried food, and so on.
Aspartame: Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is commonly used in ‘lite’ or diet products. According to the National Library of Medicine, Aspartame ‘can inhibit the synthesis and release of neurotransmitters, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which are known regulators of neurophysiological activity. Aspartame acts as a chemical stressor by elevating plasma cortisol levels and causing the production of excess free radicals.’
If you choose to eliminate any of the foods on this list, say goodbye to aspartame.
Energy drinks and soda: If you read our previous articles about sugar cravings, you understand sugar’s negative impact on the body. The sugar content in sodas and energy drinks is alarming but coupled with caffeine, you’ve got a stellar anxiety and depression-inducing cocktail.
The (really) nice list
The foods that are listed here are known to not only feed the good bacteria in your gut but also help promote the production of dopamine, serotonin, and help fight free radicals.
Fiber: If you’re feeling down, it’s time to up your fiber content. Fiber is known to lower inflammation and can help you improve your concentration.
What to eat: Lentils, chickpeas, strawberries, quinoa, oats, almonds
Antioxidants: Eating a good amount of antioxidants helps prevent damage to your brain cells that may be caused by age. Like fiber, antioxidants are anti-inflammatory and help curb depression, anxiety, and stress.
What to eat: Raspberries, blueberries, dark leafy greens, sweet cherries, artichokes, russet potatoes
Vitamin D: Did you know that your muscles, heart, immune system, and brain all have vitamin D receptors? While research on the effectiveness of vitamin D in supplement form is shaky, getting vitamin D through the food you eat is much more effective.
Populations high in depression and anxiety have been linked to vitamin D deficiencies.
What to eat: Salmon, egg yolks, fortified milk, fortified cereals
Folate: Folate is a B vitamin and can aid in the production of brain chemicals that affect your mood. Research has shown a strong indication of B vitamin deficiencies and depression.
What to eat: Lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, asparagus, broccoli
Listen to your gut
If you take a proactive approach to your mental health, it’s time to pile up that plate with feel-good foods and ditch the bad ones. Your mood may depend on it!
Want to learn more about how food affects your body? Try taking a food sensitivity test that feels like it was tailored to your specific needs. Contact us to learn more!